Theatre Review: Surviving a Terrorist Attack
Written by: Victoria Highfield
BU21 is a bare, brutal and beautifully honest London terror drama.
What would you do if you witnessed a terrorist attack and lived to tell the tale? Stuart Slade brings its audience into direct contact with a survivors group of 6 Londoners each affected by the plane crash of fated flight BU21 in Fulham.
This daring new play is a darkly comic insight into how we cope when tragedy strikes in the most unlikely of places.
“Every night on the news there’s literally always some sort of massively catastrophic end-of-the-world shit going down: genocide, earthquake, terrorism, school shooting – it’s endless, you know? And I always wonder ‘how would I cope, if that happened to me?”
I looked around the room at furrowed brows. Amidst a political climate of Trump, Brexit and the war on terror this couldn’t have been more topical albeit rather grim. Paris, Brussels, Berlin… Slade shows London as the next target. The audience shift slightly in their chairs. We were about to witness our very own 911 (yes, it really is that hard hitting) sprawled out and bloody on the Kings Road.
Sitting in a circle, heads down underneath a harsh strip lighting we meet our characters. All undergoing PSTD therapy, taking turns to come up and speak, almost guiltily, like some awkward AA meeting. Think of a really maimed version of Friends.
At first they are lone voices yet as the 90 minutes unravel these become interlocking monologues; they share (surprising) bonds which ‘blossom’ into relationships, some of which more compromising than others.
Our current obsession with social media is presented in the opening scene through PR exec Izzy, who rather shockingly discovers that her mum is dead via Twitter. Her reaction at knowing the news is revulsion – out of all of the people on the Kings Road that day it was her mum that was torn apart by the burning fuselage. We’re introduced to pretty uni student Floss who witnessed a falling man plummet from the plane and land in her back garden, all whilst locking eyes for a brief moment, her cheese sandwich still in hand. There’s Ana, a Romanian waitress wheelchair bound and suicidal after suffering from severe burns. Followed by Clive, a young Muslim, scared forever by the crash yet falsely portrayed as a terrorist conspirator. There’s Graham, the eye witness who also happens to be a bigoted racist.
And finally there’s Alex, a coked up city banker who sees the survivors group as ‘a perfect place to pull’. We know he’s in mourning but to be honest he’s a bit of a dick.
However it’s Alex that steals the show by breaking the forth wall in this verbatim play. His voice drips with scathing and bitter sarcasm as he baits his audience, asking why we’ve come to watch a play with such strong subject matter. He says the things we all secretly think but are not allowed to say. Are we all furtively into tragedy porn? As Graham says, why do we all slow down to watch the wreckage of a car crash on the motorway? Terrible as it may seem is it human nature? It seems we have a fascination in stories surrounding disaster. Alex brazenly accuses his audience of racism for thinking that the only Muslim character is a terrorist. However this was actually a deliberate move by Slade’s narrative which was brave in its discussion of Islam extremism and the sensitive subject of race.
Aside from a tea trolley and a set of plastic chairs, Director Dan Pick creates an intimate setting of a vertically bare stage. This only heightened the intensity of this provocative drama and exposed the actors’ emotional cabling for all to see. I loved the pure realness of the performance and its ability to laugh in the face of death.
Despite its depressing subject nature, the audience left uplifted. We’re Londoners who pull together in the face of adversity as we always do. Rich vs poor, North vs South we’re in it together and for the long haul. We love the characters – as shitty and twisted as they are – because there’s a little part of us in each of them.
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Finding myself wandering around Limehouse Basin craving a pint and perhaps even a slice of pizza, I needed to get home to my local Crate Brewery sharpish (they do the freshest craft beers and have award winning pizzas). But how to get there? Stumbling in to Limehouse Station and towards a huge sign saying CLOSED, I consider walking there instead. A short meander riverwards, I reach the canal and begin to notice a group of people donning chunky waistcoats stretching their arms around. I pause for a second, swaying slightly on the spot, watching this mesmerising circle of humans yielding huge double ended spoons.
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