Bush Hall, London (*** for play/**** for production)
Melissa Bubnic’s fierce denunciation of the City and its financial practises makes for uncomfortable viewing if you’re a woman. To survive, `you whore’, says her anti-heroine, Astrid Wentworth bluntly. `You do whatever it takes to make clients like you.’
Astrid’s whole mentality is about winning and to win in this world is to adopt the worst behavioural traits of men but to `do it backwards and in high heels’.
Bubnic’s assault on women who want to win and the sexism and misogyny of the financial world is never less than abrasively aggressive. In the Bush Hall’s handsome, stuccoed dance hall – to which the Bush Theatre has decamped whilst their own place up the road is undergoing a welcome overhaul – neither is it always audible. In some ways, perhaps just as well. The language adopted is often as bilious as the characters Bubnic chooses to satirise.
In a slew of plays which have tried over the past several decades to pin the chicanery of the financial world to the wall, Bubnic’s must be one of the most ferocious.
Caryl Churchill’s groundbreaking Serious Money (1987), was of course, the exemplar. But Headlong director Amy Hodge’s febrile, all-female cabaret style production extracts extraordinary performances from a cast who deliver Bubic’s harsh, uncompromising text as faithfully as any writer could ask for.
At the heart of this cautionary quasi-feminist tale is Kirsty Bushell’s sensational Astrid – terrifyingly amoral, sensationally sexy (especially when crooning Nina Simone or Peggy Lee) and desperately damaged. A chief broker in a City brokerage firm, Astrid, Bubic shows, is finally undone (not unlike events this week) by her sense of invincibility in a piranha-like environment where `men always win.’
Equally impressive is Chipo Chung as Isabelle, a sex worker matching Astrid for pragmatism, Ellora Torchia as the young wannabe broker, Priya, an unrecognisable Helen Schlesinger as Arthur, Astrid’s boss and Emily Barber as Harrison, a naive posh boy, constantly baited about his manhood which ultimately leads to his raping Priya.
Hodge’s great production (with a wonderful pianist, Jenny Whyte), continues the Headlong tradition for dynamic, provocative theatre. Ultimately though Bubnic’s relentless, no holds barred approach alienates.
Boys Will Be Boys
A new play by Melissa Bubnic
Astrid Wentworth: Kirsty Bushell
Priya Sengupta: Ellora Torchia
Isabelle: Chipo Chung
Harrison Stevenson: Emily Barber
Arthur Beale: Helen Schlesinger
Pianist: Jennifer Whyte
Director: Amy Hodge
Designer: Joanna Scotcher
Lighting Designer: Lee Curran
Sound Designer: Emma Laxton
Musical Director: James Fortune
Movement Director: Sarah Dowling
Fight Director: Ruth Coop-Brown of RC-ANNIE Ltd
Assistant Director: Poppy Rowley
Costume Supervisor: Claire Wardroper
Casting Director: Lotte Hines
A Headlong-Bush Theatre production