You may remember a few years ago on Emmerdale they dropped a plane on the village. As you would expect in a soap opera, the effect was devastating for a good month or so but then people and stories moved on and it never gets mentioned anymore. Real life is of course, different to television and it takes a long time for individuals to recover from a devastating event, a theme which is examined in Steven Slade’s BU21 at the Trafalgar Studios.
There has been a terrorist incident in the UK. Using a scarily easily obtained hand-held surface to air launcher, a terrorist cell has shot down a commercial airline which has crashed to the ground wiping out part of Fulham. Six people connected to the events of that day come together to tell their story and explain the effects of the terrorist action. Graham (Graham O’Mara) is a working man who on the day of the aircraft downing was caught up in events and gave a television interview that hit a spot with the viewing public for its defiance of the perpetrators of the act. Office worker Izzy (Isabella Laughland) was caught up in the initial crashing of the plane and then again in the aftermath. Disney loving Romanian Ana (Roxana Lupu) was simply catching some rays in the park when the world went to hell in a handcart. Well-heeled student Floss (Florence Roberts) had her world turned upside down due to the unexpected arrival of a total stranger while young Muslim Clive (Clive Keene) was nowhere near Fulham at the time of the crash but his place in the events of that day is secured forever. Finally, local resident and banker Alex (Alexander Forsyth) lost more than his home when the terrorists had their day. Six people who in the course of things would never have anything in common and who all have to find a way of dealing with not only the headline events but their own actions on the day afterwards.
Powerful is just one of the many words that I could use to describe BU21. Six very individual stories connect around one event and the PTSD group they attend. As I’ve said above, these are all very different people and it’s really great how the writing makes them all not just believable as characters but as people affected by the disaster that befell the country. The main effect of the writing is to make the audience question how they would react to an event like this? Having been in the RAF based in London during the days when the IRA were at their most active I always assumed I would react with total professionalism to a terrorist outrage but really nobody knows how it will affect them and that is something the play really brings to life, particularly in the character of Graham who does everything wrong yet somehow does something right in his initial response.
And speaking of the characters, this is a true ensemble piece with every actor bringing not only their real name which adds a nice feeling of authenticity but also a superb performance to the production. I do feel that a couple of the characters, particularly Izzy and Ana, could have been fleshed out a bit more as I felt by the end I didn’t know as much about them as I did about the others. However, there was one stand-out character, and actor for me and that was Alexander Forsyth’s portrayal of Alex. Love him or loathe him – and believe me you will do both – Alex is a fantastic character to play. He is the main one to break the fourth wall and talk directly to the audience – who he both despises and needs. He will make you laugh and make you feel guilty that you did. It would be so easy to overplay him and make him too cynical in his attitudes and treatment of the others but somehow, Alexander manages to keep him just on the right side so he’s not necessarily the complete banker he at first appears.
It was a nice touch to perform the show in the smaller Trafalgar Studio. This is a play that needs an intimate space where the audience are close to the actors and can really appreciate the nuances of Dan Pick’s direction – I would really recommend keeping an eye on the way the chairs get moved around – and possibly the most poignant moment is Floss counting out 22 seconds in complete darkness.
Overall then, BU21 is a thought-provoking insight into the effects of a terrorist atrocity in the heart of London – the most diverse city, by any measure, in the UK. Both the characters and their actions were fully believable and leaving the theatre, walking down Whitehall towards Westminster, I couldn’t help but look up at all those twinkling lights heading for Heathrow and wondering what would I do if the worst happened today.
Review by Terry Eastham
Every night on the news there’s literally always some sort of massively catastrophic end-of-the-world shit going down: genocide, earthquake, terrorism, school shooting – it’s endless, you know? And I always wonder ‘how would I cope, if that happened to me?’
Transferring after a sell-out run at Theatre503, Stuart Slade’s BU21 follows six Londoners in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. By turns terrifying, inspiring, brutal, heart-breaking and hilarious, BU21 is verbatim theatre from the very near future.
BU21 at the Trafalgar Studio Two
14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY