Thursday, 19 January 2012

Theatre review: Our New Girl

There's another kitchen on the stage of the new Bush (this time arranged in thrust by designer Morgan Large) but it's a posher and, on the surface, more ordered space than the last one. Heavily-pregnant Hazel (Kate Fleetwood) is a former lawyer, now attempting to distribute organic olive oil from home in order to spend more time with first child Daniel (Jude Willoughby tonight, alternating with Jonathan Teale.) There's hints of We Need To Talk About Kevin in Nancy Harris' Our New Girl as Hazel's nervous energy and hassled demeanour gradually reveal that she feels a disconnect from her son - she's uncomfortable around him, perhaps even afraid. Her husband is the impossibly dashing plastic surgeon Richard (Mark Bazeley,) who alternates between raking in the cash botoxing wealthy women's faces and spending months saving burn victims in Haiti (he first appears complete with douchebag-standard tasselled scarf.) Hazel's feeling of being the only one not in control in her own house only gets worse when, without consulting or even warning her, Richard hires young Irish nanny Annie (Denise Gough) to help her out (or possibly keep an eye on her as much as on Daniel?)

Fleetwood is excellent as ever, she's very good at these frustrated, nervy characters but occasionally displays the steel and attention to detail Hazel used in her former life as a barrister. (This choice of former career amused me, and only me; as I may have mentioned once or twice [a minute] I was in a play with Kate Fleetwood about 18 years ago, and we played opposing counsel.) I think my interpretation of Our New Girl is essentially the story of a woman attempting to gain the same control over her family life as she once had over her work. But the way it's told is somewhere between domestic drama and thriller. The opening moments give the audience an insight that may affect which side we fall on, but there's a question over whether Daniel's behaviour is unusually bad and his father too lenient, or if it's all in his mother's head because she never bonded with him. (Hazel is frequently accused of complaining about #FirstWorldProblems and not knowing how good she's got it.) There's no easy answers, Charlotte Gwimmer's production certainly plays up the mystery/thriller element and there's moments when I was desperately impatient to see how this was all going to play out. There's an Act II plot development that's rather disappointingly obvious but at least it has interesting repercussions. Well-performed by all four actors and featuring some moments of sharp comedy among the tension, I'd recommend this if you fancy something entertaining whose next move you can't always predict.

Our New Girl by Nancy Harris is booking until the 11th of February at the Bush Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval.

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