2000 Feet Away

Anthony Weigh
Bush Theatre
(2008)

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Since its last opening, the Bush has enjoyed a makeover and reconfiguration that leaves it with a mild thrust and even greater intimacy, if that is possible.

This works well for a drama that is oppressive, making spectators into voyeurs, close enough to the actors to trip them up with a stretched leg but also to share their anguish - and there is lots of that on display.

Anthony Weigh uses a story of child abuse to put small-town America under the microscope and it is surely no coincidence that he sets 2000 Feet Away in Iowa, the archetypal Middle American state.

This is a region of Christian Fundamentalists that has helped to keep George Bush in power when their coastal brethren would have killed for change. As such, it is a perfect location for an American Gothic story.

This is framed by the legendary Grant Wood painting of a grim farmer and his wife. They symbolise the paucity of joy in communities like this and, if this play is to be believed, little has changed between the 1930s and the present day.

The play centres on a deputy sheriff played by Joseph Fiennes an awfully long way from Shakespeare in Love. He would like a quiet life chewing doughnuts and cookies while avoiding matrimony but a new law makes his town a refuge for paedophiles.

They are not permitted within the titular distance of schools and a number of other places where children congregate. Helpfully, Eldon, Iowa, which is otherwise only renowned as the location of Wood's double portrait, has a grungy motel that fits the bill.

Initially, the focus is on a symbolic couple played by Roger Sloman and Phyllis Logan who annually win a lookalike competition as Wood's farmer and his wife. They have a problem in that their quiet, piano playing son A.G. has a weakness for underage boys. Life is hard as they receive regular deliveries of human faeces from the local kids.

They call in the Deputy, a latter-day Pied Piper, whose solution is to evict Ian Hart's A.G. This sets up a journey for both men around a town that shows itself, like the country beyond, to be diseased. The "perverts" are holed up in a motel without adequate protection for either their victims or themselves, their avengers are on the rampage, and little girls, represented by the talented Charlotte Beaumont on press night, are more Lolita than Little Women.

The action leads to a conflagration and the conclusion that not only are the sex offenders people from whom we should all be protected but so are many small-minded, small-town Americans. To be fair, their Sun-reading British equivalents with a dangerous vigilante mentality may be no better.

Seen in this remarkable close-up, the actors' strengths and weaknesses are very apparent. Fiennes gives a nicely nuanced performance as the stressed law officer, while Kirsty Bushell is funny twice over, in different roles. Ian Hart leads the way, though, as the unfortunate paedophile, a sensitive man whom one feels would love to escape his destiny but cannot.

Anthony Weigh has written a challenging play that tells a serious story through comedy and metaphor. 2000 Feet Away marks a fascinating British debut that, despite uncomfortable subject matter, should be seen.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher