Parliament Square at Bush Theatre
For a reason never made clear, Kat (Esther Smith) abandons her comfortable life in Manchester to commit an act of self-immolation in Parliament Square – in the desperate hope that her suicide inspires people to change the world. The world of Parliament Sqaure is terrifying, suppressed by people trying to ignore it. Kat wants to rewrite that. She is guided by a motivated Voice (Lois Chimimba) through her anxieties, as though consulting her conscience.
The stage at the Bush Theatre, designed by Fly Davis, is minimalistic (almost bland) and decorated with random household objects in the first act. These are gradually removed as Kat leaves her home-life behind. Aside from a few other props, the audience is left to imagine her house, the train she takes, and Parliament Square itself. Maintaining this emptiness, many characters are represented by voices and spotlights – demonstrating Kat’s distracted attention.
This is co-ordinated with surreal and elegant precision by director Jude Christian and lighting designer Jack Knowles, creating a spare but seething production. It’s hard to believe Parliament Square was written before Trump and Brexit, but James Fritz’s deliberate veil over his dystopian setting makes it applicable in any time. His script is more minimal than the stage design, leaving the details of the scenario to the viewer’s imagination. This allows Christian to create a uniquely visual experience, fitting perfectly with Fritz’s rapid-fire dialogue.
Despite the surreal staging, the actors create characters who are painfully human. Esther Smith endures the brunt of it, portraying a constant state of anxiety and psychological torment. Without the bliss of an interval, Smith performs with gut-wrenching and spirit-crushing perfection. The roles around her are little by comparison, but every cast member delivers with such upsetting naturalism – even the most hurtful characters are empathised with.
Parliament Square absorbs and devastates, describing an uncomfortable reality about the potential to make a difference in the world. The illusion of ease and happiness tries to ignore the bad in the world and naively believes it won’t hit home. But this inevitably shatters. The audience is never certain whether self-immolation is abhorred or glorified or makes any difference, but the play demonstrates the fury and frustration of people living in the modern world. Can any of us really make a difference?
Photo: Richard Davenport
Parliament Square is at Bush theatre from 30th November 2017 until 6th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.