The Bush's new studio theatre opens with a melancholy romance from rising star Barney Norris
Small in scale but huge in heart, this extremely touching and relatable new play from celebrated, prolific young writer Barney Norris (‘Visitors’) drops in on the living room of Carol (Tessa Peake-Jones), a middle-aged council worker who lives alone in her modest, tidy home on the south coast now that her daughter has gone to university. Sleeping on her sofa is excitable, chatty Eddie (Andrew French), an old flame of a similar age who has dropped back into her life after falling on hard times. There’s much to catch up on, and an initial frenzy of news and laughs between them develops into something more insightful and painful as time goes on.
Over five short acts, Norris gives us intense bursts of conversation that gradually amount to remarkably deep character studies. It’s a play of little moments with big impact, and Alice Hamilton’s production is intimate and compassionate. Eddie at first seems confident and lively, but French is great at hinting at the anxiety and trouble behind Eddie’s big, nervous smile, and Norris’s writing offers a window slowly opening on mental health issues that might lie just beneath the surface. Peake-Jones, too, gives a performance extremely well-attuned to the masks we wear and the walls we build to keep us safe. ‘While We’re Here’ aches with the pain of time passed, opportunities lost and life flashing by too quickly.
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Saw this last night. A beautiful, simple play with an unusual couple. Rings true to the society we live in, the struggle of every day life, the nostalgia. The final monologue was so powerful, I had tears running down my cheeks when it ended. I hope more people go and see it. Bush Theatre is so intimate and their plays are the perfect antidote to the busy West End.