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Untouchable

Simon Burt
Bush
(2002)

The third play in the Bush Theatre's new writing season to celebrate its 30th birthday is a two-hander written by a 27 year-old man. This would not be that exciting a fact except that Simon Burt has managed to recreate the world of two 17 year-old girls on the brink of adulthood in Wakefield, with some success.

Lou and Manni to have known each other since they were eight and, after much debate between themselves and with their respective parents, have decided to move into an unbelievably grotty bedsit above a nightclub. They may have to share a bed, top to tail, but it only costs £60 a week and it will give them the chance to trial the Wakefield night life properly (or as they put it in their sometimes almost unintelligible Yorkshire accents go "Oop Workey"). The absolute peak of their very limited ambitions is to get as far as Leeds for a night on the town.

Their backgrounds and characters are quite different and in some ways, they seem almost like opposite sides of the same coin. Lou has left school at the earliest opportunity and is doing shift work in a pub or restaurant. She has some money available and, despite a yearning to find true love, one night stands seemed a pretty good alternative.

By contrast, Manni is of Asian descent, has never drunk or had sex and has ambitions to go to university and then become a psychologist. She also has a steady if unexciting boyfriend who will not take her to bed until she has a wedding ring on her finger.

The play delights in showing us their raucous adventures as first, Manni is introduced to real life and vodka by the gallon. Not surprisingly, the dissolute lifestyle begins to take its toll on her academic work and part-time job. The pulling in opposite directions of the lifestyle of a seventeen-year-old in Wakefield and her traditional Asian family-based upbringing is convincingly portrayed and often moving.

Lou is a different kettle of fish: she makes the most of her freedom in her little sprayed-on dresses and with her upfront manner. This comes to the fore first when she brings a man to their shared bed not realising that Manni is in the flat. It re-emerges more charitably as Manni, having given up on her boring boyfriend, finally thinks that she has found a man to take her to bed. She inevitably chooses badly and it is her best friend that has selflessly to rescue her at risk to life and limb.

As the play develops, the two girls begin to take on each other's traits and eventually clothes. Lou becomes a very good amateur psychologist who begins to wish that she could go back home to her family. At the same time Manni starts to find her feet in the world and just wants to have fun.

While the plotting and abrupt ending seem a little contrived, Simon Burt has introduced himself as a very promising young writer with a sense of humour who can write good dialogue and get under the skin of real young people. This should mark him out for a successful career as a playwright.

He is excellently supported by director, Natasha Betteridge and two excellent young actresses, Samantha Robinson fresh out of drama school and Pooja Shah who has already made her mark in Bend it Like Beckham and does not appear to have needed drama school to become a very good actress.

Runs until 21st December. Why not take advantage of our special ticket offer?

Reviewer: Philip Fisher