Christmas Is Miles Away
Chloe Moss is one of a great crew of young writers that Mike Bradwell is currently nurturing at what is so much more than a traditional pub theatre in Shepherd's Bush. It is truly a home of some of the finest new writing currently to be seen on stage.
Christmas is Miles Away could be seen as an archetypal Bush play, featuring three teenagers struggling to come of age in Manchester in the late 1980s. The problems that they face - love (and sex), parents, education and the future - have meaning for every audience member, since unless they are still at school themselves, they will all have been there at some time in the past.
The play opens as Christie and Luke, played by David Judge and Paul Stocker respectively, are camping out in a field half-an-hour's walk from their homes. They are best friends who hardly need verbal communication, so well do they know each other.
Luke is the brash, noisy one, full of ideas and cash-rich thanks to a job with his dad. Christie is both sensitive and artistic and his current worry is whether he can pluck up the courage to ask Julie Bridges out on a date.
Eventually, as a best friend should, Luke offers to step in on his behalf and, in so doing, starts off a chain of events that entertain and challenge the audience for the next couple of hours.
Soon, the embarrassingly shy couple are together, sharing a chaste bed, head to toe as an early stage towards a love that is even more important to Christie following the early death of his father.
Inevitably, as Christie and Georgia Taylor's Julie become closer, they force a wedge between the two boys, at a time when Luke is feeling particularly vulnerable, to the extent of deliberately failing his exams.
Ever so slowly, love blossoms and soon, Luke the gooseberry, following numerous fights with his father, opts for a career in the army. Soon, he has turned into a vicious little squaddie who takes part in the kinds of games that end up on the front page of the News of the World classified as torture.
The first three-quarters of Christmas is Miles Away contains much wry and often tender comedy, never more so than when a very drunk Luke bursts in on the bed-sharing couple. The final section is filled with a morbid quality, as pain impinges on the tripartite relationship that perhaps owes a little to Francois Truffaut's Jules et Jim.
On Jamie Todd's set, which is split between a bosky clough and Christie's bedroom, with Madchester backing music, Sarah Frankcom marshals her talented young cast well in yet another fine Bush drama, on this occasion transferred from the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher