“Some would say this is about imagination, memory and loss…”
Second childhood. No, I’m not talking about old age and dementia, (or even some spiritual ‘rebirth’/Benjamin Button-esque reversal of time!) but the deliberate choice to ‘be’ a child when one is in the prime of one’s life. Sometimes the term ‘man-child’ is used to denote an emotionally immature man. But for women? They’re too sensible to regress to this state, surely…?
The brainchild of writer/director Paul Macauley for Broken Silence Theatre, Bug Camp begins with Lola (Emmie Spencer) addressing the audience in a childlike fashion. She’s obviously an adult ‘in real life’, which begs the question: is she meant to be ‘a child’ or is she an adult deliberately playing the persona of a child for reasons we don’t understand yet?
I confess, this question did preoccupy my thoughts during the first 20 minutes, but once the play clarifies this, it throws light on the other themes of the play. Asides from Lola’s ‘childhood’, the core of the play is about her relationship to three other characters: her former best friend Jas (Louise Devlin); mutual acquaintance Aleine (Josephine Dimbleby); and ‘James Hetfield from Metallica’, who interestingly in gender-blind casting, is played by Abbi Douetil (and very funny to boot). What Jas, Aleine and Lola have in common is that they all went to school together – and in the case of Aleine and Jas, know the ‘dirt’ of the others from yesteryear. While in one sense the comparison is superficial, Bug Camp shares similarities to the movie Bridesmaids with its female-centric cast, its complex ambivalent female relationships and the occasional humorous scatalogical reference!
Lola ‘enjoys’ a love/hate relationship with Jas. As someone who is the archetypal ‘social bee’, Jas is acutely aware that she lives a ‘picture perfect’ life and revels in it – much to the annoyance of Lola. Devlin is delightful as Jas, playing up the character’s solipsistic traits and the importance of her phone.
At the other end of the popularity spectrum there is Aleine. Much derided at school (especially by Jas), Aleine has the pseudo-important job of Loss Provention Officer at a supermarket, though it could be argued that it has done nothing for her status as a pariah! Dimbleby is hilarious in this role, her character’s straightforward ‘Aussie’ attitude at odds with the subterfuge of her former acquaintances. Asides fron the aforementioned ‘James Hetfield’ – Douetil plays another pivotal character who is the ‘missing link’ between Metallica and Lola… Which leads us back to Spencer… While all the adult characters have their interesting quirks, Lola is the proverbial fairytale ‘pea in the mattress’ whose presence is felt in all the layers of the play. Spencer imparts to her a ‘knowingness’ that cuts to the heart of things, as she makes all manner of preparations to travel to her own personal ‘Shangri-Las’ – Bug Camp…
Of all the Broken Silence Theatre plays that I’ve seen to date (which I confess isn’t all of them), Bug Camp is perhaps their biggest departure in content and style from previous fayre. While this obviously has an immediate effect in terms of ‘scrutability’ in the first act, the payoff in the latter half of the play more than makes up for this with its humour, its open dialogue about the roles and identities women are expected to adopt during their lifetime, and its satisfying conclusion regarding closure from the past.
© Michael Davis 2017
Bug Camp ran at Theatre Utopia, Matthew’s Yard, Croydon from 1st to 3rd June 2017.