The Bush Theatre may have closed its door as it undergoes a year-long renovation project to improve its accessibility and sustainability but in the meantime, it is stretching out its branches locally. And first up is Melissa Bubnic’s Boys Will Be Boys, playing a few minutes further down the Uxbridge Road at Bush Hall, an atmospheric Edwardian dance hall which has served time as a WWII soup kitchen and a bingo hall before transforming into an established music and cabaret venue.
Such an illustrious history seems ideal for this Headlong co-production, which blends in its own elements of cabaret and choreography alongside brilliant pianist Jennifer Whyte’s musical accompaniment. Which makes for a fascinating backdrop for Bubnic’s play about women in the City in which all the roles are played by women. So there’s women playing women, women playing men, and women playing women playing men at their own game.
Such is Astrid Wentworth’s mindset, a senior broker in her 40s who has made her way in a man’s world by being one of the boys, better than them in fact, but at no little cost to herself. These personal sacrifices become apparent as she takes on a protégée, the fresh-faced Priya, and inducts her into the brutal reality of the banking world – in case we don’t get the message, Joanna Scotcher’s set centres on three toilet cubicles – where even when you’re winning, no-one really wins.
Amy Hodge’s production is slickly done and anchored by a brilliant performance from Kirsty Bushell (last seen as an excellent Hedda Gabler) as Astrid, equally at home barking sharp-suited coffee orders at her junior as crooning Etta James standards over the grand piano. And she’s supported by a very game company who drag up and dance up a storm – Helen Schlesinger’s insidious manager Arthur and Emily Barber’s dim posh boy Harrison both standing out.
But this approach and Bubnic’s writing offer up little that is new, little real insight beyond clichéd notions of the banking world and sex workers which don’t feel sufficiently interrogated to merit being replicated here. Indeed it feels that the cabaret setting, as seductive as it is, brings nothing of substantive value to the table and so all we’re left with is a rather slight, and predictably plotted drama.