Originally performed at Theatre503 last year, Stuart Slade’s play BU21 has recently transferred to Trafalgar Studios in the West End. Set during the aftermath of a fictional terrorist attack on London, the survivors of ‘22/7’ recall the chlling details of the event and how (or not) they have coped ever since. How does one forget a plane hurtling towards southwest London, and the sight of passengers (still alive) before they hit the ground?
Forced to attend a group therapy session, the disperate group in painstaking detail unravel the tangled mess of memories and emotions, to varying degrees of catharsis. For some, they endure injuries and burns, while for others they grieve for loved ones they have lost. Others as witnesses to the incident are affected by the horrors they have seen with their own eyes. All suffer belated anger – at those responsible for the senseless violence and after the initial stoicism, expected to carry on as if nothing’s happened. In the aftermath, picking up where they left off seems pointless and disrepectful.
If the play only had this to say, the play wouldn’t be half as nuanced. However characters like Clive – a young man of Muslim heritage but raised in a secuar background – offers a conflicted view of a young man who hasn’t been able to reconcile his ‘spiritual inclination’ with the humanist views of his father. The tragic events expose the conflict between what is expected in terms of feelings and behaviour in all the characters versus reality.
While BU21 is frighteningly real, it also has the hallmarks of a pitch-black comedy, simultaneously honouring the serious matter while injecting judicial moments of levity – the bizarre and unpoliced thoughts that occur in extremis. Interestingly, it is some of these opinions, as stated by Alex that are more ‘shocking’ than the grim premise of the play.
Slade’s insights into the cutural and socioeconomic effect of such a catastrophe hit the nail on the head – in the case of the play, subtlely asking if the outrage would be so pronounced if an incident of this magnitude took place in a less affluent part of London instead of Fulham and Parsons Green.
Sometimes the passing of time lessens the impact of a play from its original run. This isn’t the case here. Certainly anyone who has lived in London during 2005’s 7/7 attacks or other similar incidents will immediately recognise the play’s versimilitude. As a deconstruction of today’s climate of fear, BU21 poses questions about plays of this nature as ‘entertainment’ and their value. Far from being an excuse for wallowing in the misery of others, BU21 holds a mirror to what people are capable of when the stability of society is under threat.
© Michael Davis 2017
BU21 runs at Trafalgar Studios, London until 18th February 2017.
CAST: Alexander Forsyth (Alex), Clive Keene (Clive), Florence Roberts (Floss), Graham O’Mara (Graham), Isabella Laughland (Izzy), Roxana Lupu (Ana).
Written by Stuart Slade, directed by Dan Pick.