Catherine Trieschmann
Bush Theatre

Publicity imahe

Crooked has been selected to celebrate a memorable achievement. This play marks the tenth anniversary of the arrival at the Bush of one of contemporary theatre's great characters, Mike Bradwell.

In an interview for TheatreVoice, while a little reluctantly acknowledging that there is such a phenomenon as a Bush play, Bradwell claims that because it is set in Mississippi and the protagonists are holiness lesbians, this might escape such categorisation.

It is not clear who he thinks he is kidding but it will not be Bush regulars. Were he not such an honest and level-headed man, one might even wonder whether he might be suffering from self-delusion, which is in fact one of the main themes of this UK premiere.

Designer Libby Watson has caught the nature of this play perfectly with her wooden White Box set, overshadowed by a gigantic crucifix. One might however argue that she has gone a little over the top in endowing the cross with pink fluorescent lighting for a comic scene that takes place in a church.

Despite having the coolest mum imaginable in Suzan Sylvester's Elise, 14 year-old Laney Waters is having a tough time.

The pair have decamped from Wisconsin to Elise's family home in Oxford, Mississippi, following her sociologist husband's swoop into the kind of terrifying madness that involves carving knives and biblical reconstructions.

Laney has a psychosomatic hump-back in all but name; and no one at school will talk to her. Her solution is another of Crooked's major themes, escapism - in this case into rather flowery but well-written short stories.

In true Bush style, unhappy loner Laney meets and befriends the only person in town who makes her look sociable. Debbie Chazen plays the obese and obtuse Bible-bashing Maribel. She is the daughter of an unseen man who is both the town's preacher and its second-hand car dealer.

With her lack of social skills, limited imagination and all-round, inbred ignorance, Maribel was always going to have an uphill struggle to find friends. Her invisible stigmata and a sole chat-up line like "have you ever asked Jesus into your heart?" ensures that the poor sixteen year old hasn't a hope in hell, if you, unlike her, will pardon the "cuss".

The relationship that develops between these two inadequate teenagers is never likely to bring long-term comfort let alone love to either. To her credit, Elise soon realises this and is far more concerned that her daughter might become holy than a lesbian.

Towards the end of this 90 minute drama, loosened up by red wine, Laney finally begins to accept both her nature and her situation rather than escaping once again into her literary dream world. She then begins to address her real problems and by doing so, takes the first step towards her psychological recovery.

Unhappily one consequence is the desertion of poor, childish Maribel who may never recover from yet another dumping.

Under Mike Bradwell's direction, Amanda Hale, who only left drama school a few months ago, matches her more experienced colleagues by giving a performance of emotional power and maturity.

Crooked is a play that proves rather stronger in its touching moments than some of the comic ones and some may question whether even a lonely Laney would ever have taken up with a dullard like Maribel. That may be risky, as there has to be half a chance that the subject matter is at least to an extent autobiographical.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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