Fringe venues are pint-sized at the best of times and the small but perfectly formed Bush Theatre (sandwiched in between a raucous O’Neil’s pub on one side and the giant Shepherds Bush Empire on another) is no exception. Still, it’s hard to imagine a more apt space for the up-close-and-personal nature of its latest play, Jack Thorne’s When You Cure Me, the last of the Bush’s Tainted Love season of new writing.
In this minute setting we are transported, with unsettling intimacy into the bedroom of the teenage Rachel, overcome by a psychosomatic condition that has left her paralysed from the waist down following a knife-point rape. Confined to the bed, Rachel occupies a crotchety limbo, estranged as she is from the familiar territory of her old life and friends and unable to adjust to the alien aftermath of the new.
It is into Rachel’s frustrated impasse that we are so irrevocably drawn. Thorne’s doggedly unsentimental portrait sees Rachel testing her overly attentive mother (Gwyneth Strong) and devoted but gauche boyfriend Peter (Samuel Barnett) to the limits of their endurance with her conflicting demands and exasperation. Unable to integrate back into the frivolous nuances of teenage life, Rachel cruelly spurns the gestures of a visiting school friend Alice (Lisa McDonald), still naively ignorant of the darker side of adulthood into which Rachel has been so violently inducted.
Thorne’s acute ear for the teen mindset and vernacular adds to the hyperrealism of the play as do the flawless performances from the young cast, especially Morven Christie’s portrait of Rachel, whose vitriol barely papers over the cracks of her underlying vulnerability.
However, while Thorne frames Rachel’s dilemma with ruthless precision he stops short of actually investigating it and the plot often feels as if it is circling rather than tackling its central conflict head on. But as a snapshot of an ordinary girl in an extraordinary situation, it makes for intense, compelling viewing – an experience that would invariably be lost in a less intimate venue.
Small the Bush may be, but this pint-sized powerhouse of new writing time and again punches above its weight, harbouring writers like Thorne so evidently on the brink of bigger things.
When You Cure Me runs until the 17th of December at Bush Theatre. For more information click here.