White Guy on the Bus at Finborough Theatre
The Finborough Theatre has a reputation as a powerhouse for turning out excellent off-West End productions, and as an incubator for powerful drama. It now plays host to the European premiere of Bruce Graham’s White Guy on the Bus, which has made its way to London after debuting in Chicago in 2015.
Set in a deeply divided modern Philadelphia, the play follows the relationship of Ray (Donald Sage Mackay) – a high-flying white financial executive and “numbers guy” – and Shatique (Joanna McGibbon) – a black student nurse with a torrid personal life. It is the setting that marks their first encounter as unusual: the pair meet on a bus that ferries visitors to a prison outside the city. Here, in this space, it is Ray that is the outsider, and the narrative builds on this initial incongruity to ask questions about race, class and crime in the US. White Guy on the Bus situates itself at the intersection between a number of important tensions in American society, and poses difficult questions that the characters themselves struggle to answer. These ideas are sadly all too common, but they are presented with real grit and twisted humour – if occasionally accompanied by shaky slips out of the American accent. Language, too, is explored as an arena in which power dynamics dominate, a fact brought across with a stern nobility by McGibbon.
The standout performance doubtlessly comes from Mackay, who acts with an easy elegance that is captivating. Much of the production rests on his ability to change gear and deliver the adrenaline to push you out of the bourgeois suburban living room and into the troubling realities of a contemporary American life replete with drugs, death and hard cash – and he carries the responsibility with great flare.
This is a vibrant and dynamic work that builds its tension carefully and unexpectedly. It is rare for theatre to approach the kinds of heart-pounding action that we have come to expect from cinema, but – at its best moments – White Guy on the Bus does just that.
Photo: Helen Maybanks
White Guy on the Bus is at Finborough Theatre from 27th March until 21st April 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.