How to Curse

Ian McHugh
Bush Theatre
(2007)

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Like Dominic Cooke at the Royal Court, the Bush's new Artistic Director Josie Rourke has chosen to introduce herself with new work by young authors. Her first play as director is a debut for its writer, Ian McHugh and is a real Bush play - up to a point.

How to Curse features three troubled middle class 17-year-olds in a book-lined Great Yarmouth squat, designed and lit by Donmar favourites, Christopher Oram and Hartley T.A.Kemp.

This belongs to Al Weaver's Nick, who is so unworldly as to bring to mind a younger version of TV's Catweazle; and that is before he starts on some spells to conjure up other worldly beings.

The early scenes alternate between his potentially homoerotic meeting with Will, a self-mutilator played by Robert Boulter, and visits from the totally whimsical Miranda.

Emily Beecham plays the floaty magician's daughter who dresses backwards and at one point does a great impression of Kate Bush in Wuthering Heights mood.

As the play develops, nothing much happens but Nick tries hard to inspire a visitation from the other side. It also becomes apparent, as literary references spew out courtesy on the host's apparently photographic memory, that we are somehow communing with the spirit, if not the body, of The Tempest.

Shakespeare buffs will link together the tempestuous weather, a cell full of books, a magician's daughter called Miranda, a catalyst called Will, and quite possibly many more, such as a trip to Milan.

By the end, some rather spectacular supernatural happenings disturb the dubious equilibrium in a play that delights much more with its writing than any narrative drive.

While Al Weaver in particular acquits himself ably, How to Curse is an oddity that never really settles into anything more than a homage to the outer reaches of Shakespeare, without achieving the beauty or purpose of Peter Greenaway in Prospero's Books.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher