Theatre 503 on the 503 Bus
Most directors on learning that their theatre needed to close for a couple of weeks to get spruced up would have a hard decision to make. Should they go on holiday or catch up on some much-needed sleep.
The redoubtable Paul Higgins from Theatre 503 in Battersea decided to produce a half-hour play on a London bus with a maximum audience capacity of 22. As a warm-up, the bus moves from its pick-up point under Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment and travels along the river past the Houses of Parliament with great views across to the South Bank. It eventually stops about ten yards from its starting point, on the other side of the road.
Last Tuesday was originally set on a commuter train travelling through Connecticut. The tale is deceptively simple as a diverse group of people goes about its transportational business.
A busy couple synchronise diaries, a man has an increasingly tetchy phone-fight with his partner at home, while two other women do no more than commute; and the guard collects tickets.
In the background is a voice over that gradually announces the gory death toll following a series of bombings of the kind that are now all too familiar to Londoners.
Just as the slice of life begins to pall, the stakes are upped by the arrival of a silent, staring teenage boy. With a bloodied head, torn clothes and lacking shoes, he brings a chill to the train and its passengers. He also creates a fellow-feeling that is rare amongst commuters anywhere in the world.
For those who choose seats at the front, the action is very real and can be disturbing, with the actors converging around your seat. Rarely can audience members feel so much like protagonists in dramatic or minor historic events.
Last Tuesday is a slight piece that sheds light on the effect that senseless bombings have on a city and its travellers. Beware, it could haunt you long after you leave the 503 bus.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher