Is that true?”
How would you cope in a crisis? But no, really, if the sky came caving in on your world, if terrorist atrocities landed on your doorstep (or back garden), could you even begin to conceive of how you might react and respond. That’s what Stuart Slade’s BU21 asks of its six characters as they congregate in group therapy sessions for survivors, all dealing with the aftermath of a jumbo jet being shot down in the skies above West London with an anti-aircraft missile.
One woman lost her mother, the news smashing into her world through a photo on Twitter; another saw a man still strapped into his seat crashing into her garden, still alive even if only for a couple of seconds; yet another has been horrifically burned by jet fuel, and so on. Their stories are told through interlinking monologues, details drawing their experiences inevitably closer but even as Slade gives us a searing account of tragedy close to home, he brilliantly skewers the way in which society, and particularly the media, tries to deal with it.
So he gives us Alex (whose girlfriend died, and his best friend, because they were conducting an affair at exactly the wrong time) who repeatedly smashes through the fourth wall, asking us if we’re OK being “entertained by a bunch of horrific human suffering”, challenging us about our preconceptions about the Muslim character Clive, advising when we’ve only just got 15 minutes to go. It’s an inspired way of interrogating the play and our own responses as we laugh guiltily, uncertainly, nervously.
For Dan Pick’s production nails the need that we have to laugh, to cry, in order to process, to rationalise, to keep on living the lives that have to continue. His company capture all the shaky energy of the verbatim style in which Slade writes and there’s not a weak link between them – Alex Forsyth’s arrogant but not irreproachable banker, Graham O’Mara’s slippery van driver, Thalissa Teixeira’s distraught yet still pragmatic daughter, Florence Roberts’ haunted witness.
Under Christopher Nairne’s pointedly flickering light, it’s hard not to think of 7/7 but equally the mind is drawn to the Paris attacks and the way in which Twitter hashtags and Facebook icons satisfy the need to be seen to be doing something, how social media has warped the way we reconcile ourselves with such news, to be part of it even. Forthright, challenging, intelligent, BU21 chimes with such unflinching honesty that it’s impossible to resist.