Sunday, 8 October 2017

Theatre review: The Busy World is Hushed

PREVIEW DISCLAIMER: The official opening is on Tuesday.

In Keith Bunin's The Busy World is Hushed, a woman struggles to prioritise the men in her life, two of whom are dead - one of them for the last two millennia. Hannah (Kazia Pelka) is an Episcopalian minister and bible scholar, whose husband drowned (possibly a suicide) a couple of months before she gave birth to their only son. Thomas (Michael James) has grown up restless and easily distracted, and has been disappearing from home for months at a time ever since he was 16, trying new ventures in life or just wandering out into the wilderness. He's now 26, older than his father was when he died, which has led him back home to delve through his papers and try to find out about a man his mother will tell him very little about. Hannah is worried he’ll leave again as soon as he finds what he’s looking for, but she’s got a plan to make him stick around a bit longer.

She’s researching a newly-discovered early gospel and has hired an assistant to ghost-write her book on it; she’s noticed that Brandt (Mateo Oxley) and her son are attracted to each other, and encourages her assistant to pursue the relationship.

“Lady vicar asks her assistant to bum her son” is the headline and the oddest element in what is essentially an intimate family drama about a mother and son who desperately want to connect with each other, but each is so determined to do it on their own terms that it’s impossible. It’s also about a mother who wants to build her son into a certain image, whether that be of his late father or Jesus himself – Hannah herself admits she’s falling a little bit in love with the version of Jesus seen in the new gospel, and keeps trying to get Thomas to put up shelves for her (I was a bit relieved when they made a joke about the carpentry reference, I’d been worried Bunin might actually have thought it was subtle.)

A further theme looks at Hannah as both minister and scholar, and asks how someone with such an analytical knowledge of biblical texts, and the often-prosaic reasons one was chosen as canonical over another, can also genuinely believe in the faith created out of these texts. So there’s a lot of ideas flying around in the play, something which is particularly obvious in the inevitable explosive confrontation between the characters. There may be something quite realistic about an argument where people interrupt each other and can’t quite articulate their thoughts, but it’s not very dramatically satisfying and starts to drag.

Paul Higgins’ production could also do with tightening up its scene changes but there’s also a lot to recommend the show. It’s always good to see a play with central gay characters where their sexuality is incidental to the story, and Oxley and James have good chemistry in their scenes together. The fact that it never settles on quite what it’s about makes it a tricky play to get to the bottom of, and one I find it hard to make my mind up about, but for the most part the characters Bunin creates and the relationships they develop are interesting to watch.

The Busy World is Hushed by Keith Bunin is booking until the 25th of November at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

Phot credit: Scott Rylander.

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