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If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet

Nick Payne
Bush Theatre
(2009)

Nick Payne, the winner of the 2009 George Devine Award, has written an unusual play peopled with strange characters seen within a fantastical set. Somehow, with the assistance of director Josie Rourke who is clearly attuned to the needs of his writing, the final product is both exceedingly funny and deeply moving.

Payne quickly shows himself to have dual talents with both an ability to invent watchable, if eccentric, characters and to fill their mouths with dialogue that uncannily catches the broken speech rhythms that have become so common.

Before the actors even appear, the audience is intrigued by Lucy Osborne's all-encompassing set, which turns the Bush Theatre into a mystical space like something out of a Magritte fantasia. Everything is painted as cloudy blue sky with props and furnishings scattered around randomly, ignored until they become of significance.

This is appropriate for the home of Michael Begley's George, a blue sky thinking, eco-freak who comes close to martyrdom in his efforts to write a definitive book about the way in which we are destroying the planet.

This kind of behaviour and eccentricity is enough to drive anyone mad and his wife Fiona, played by Pandora Colin, has a lot to put up with, not only from George but also their overweight 15-year-old daughter Anna. Relative newcomer Ailish O'Connor does a fantastic job of getting under the skin of a friendless teenager riddled with angst.

Their main problem is a serious communication failure, which is partially alleviated by the arrival of George's long lost brother Terry, made gloriously funny by Rafe Spall on top form.

The brothers may be very different but have inherited one identical gene, demonstrated by their complete inability to finish a sentence before starting the next. Where George pontificates happily, Terry usually just swears to replace adjectives and allows the listener to make up their own meanings from his jabberings. This becomes nicely counterpointed when Anna reaches the stage where she replaces words almost entirely with facial tics and mannerisms that speak for themselves.

The plot, such as it is, follows the strains of George and Fiona's marriage running in parallel with Anna's desperate attempt to fit in at school and Terry's struggle to overcome a rejection from long before and unwanted idolisation today.

Josie Rourke and her universally excellent cast breathe real life into quartet any one of whom you could easily imagine bumping into in the street. It is rare for a young playwright to have this kind of ability and Nick Payne is lucky to find this kind of support for his first full length London production. Ailish O'Connor also looks to have a fine career ahead, with impeccable comic timing complemented by an intuitive feeling that creates empathy for her character.

The Bush is currently on a roll and is once again becoming a hotbed of the very best new writing. Long may it last.

Philip Fisher