Bush Theatre, London – until 1 December 2018
I would have loved to have been in the meeting where the Bush Theatre’s latest Studio production, Lands, was agreed.
“So, it’s a sort of comedy that involves a cast of two, one of whom is obsessed with jigsaws and one who spends most of the piece bouncing on a mini-trampoline. I assume that’s cool?” Evidently, it was cool, because The Bush is the most fearless commissioning theatre in London and that is a gold-plated fact. Fight me.
That said, I have some bad news: Lands wasn’t my cup of tea. We’ll come on to why in due course but ultimately it was just a bit too out there for this proud square. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. You don’t always have to like something to recognise that it has merit.
It’s a piece – I’m resisting using the wordplay because I don’t think that’s what it is – that makes an audience work. The heavily improvised text – I’m resisting using the word script because I don’t think that’s what it is — resists all easy interpretation.
At various points, I thought it was about the dangers and joys of staying in your comfort zone, the power of friendship, and addiction and the stupid way we as a society treat it. Thanks to the last, slightly heavy-handed, scene, I think it was actually about selfishness at the micro and macro level. I’m not sure how well this last minute thematic reveal, if that’s indeed what it was, worked. It left me feeling a bit cheated that I’d put in so much work figuring out for myself what the piece was when someone was basically going to shout it at me at the end. I’d prefer a piece that was able to consistently say what it was, throughout, implicitly. Or to not say it at all and leave the audience guessing.
Bluntly, for me, it’s also too long. Had this been a really quick,45-minute job I think I’d have enjoyed it much more. On press night – and given how much is improvised this will vary – it was well over an hour and a half. Both the visual conceits of the trampoline and the jigsaw and the textual conceits of constant repetition and long pauses are interesting and fun up to a point. For me, that point passed way before an hour and a half. That’s not to say the text isn’t without power, even that last scene speech for all that it somewhat annoyed me. Indeed, I could happily have lived with more text and less bouncing/jigsaw.
One thing you can’t fault with this piece is the commitment and energy that the cast and crew throw at it. Leah Brotherhead (jigsaw) and Sophie Steer (trampoline, I’d love to know what her V02 max is at this point) are 100% into this piece, without question, doubt or hesitation. It’s a lot of fun and/or a lot of not fun but in a good way to watch them spar and make up. Brotherhead makes someone sat describing jigsaw pieces by desk lamp far more entertaining than they have any right to be. Steer’s bouncing skills can’t be doubted for a moment. In Jaz Woodcock-Stewart’s completely stripped back production, they are undoubtedly the best thing.
I’m not going to pretend that I loved Lands (something at The Bush that I didn’t love!) It just wasn’t my cup of tea. That’s not a comment on the production itself though. If you like your theatre more experimental than I do though then it’s definitely worth your time. And, as ever, you can’t fault The Bush’s bravery in commissioning it.
Lands is in the Studio at The Bush until 1st December.
My ticket for Lands was kindly provided by The Bush and I sat in the middle of the third row (it’s unreserved seating). A ticket for this would normally cost £15.