Review: this is where we got to when you came in @ Bush Theatre

Tom Bolton
By Tom Bolton Last edited 85 months ago
Review: this is where we got to when you came in @ Bush Theatre

Press the buzzer. Open the door…

This cramped corridor is the entrance to the Bush Theatre, for 39 years London’s tiniest producing house, a pocket-sized powerhouse for new writing. And look at the household names who got their first break here. They’re all over the walls: Alan Rickman, Bob Hoskins, Frances de la Tour, Simon Callow, Mackenzie Crook… Not to mention the writers: Howard Barker, David Edgar, Stephen Poliakoff, Terry Johnson, Philip Ridley, Billy Roche, Charlotte Jones…

Take the mp3 player hanging on the wall and put on the headphones…

Narrow stairs lead to the main, or rather only, office. Not very big, is it? The Bush may have moved out, to new, more sensibly-sized premises in the old Shepherd’s Bush library, but there’s still plenty of tidying up to do. Artistic director Josie Rourke seems to have left a box behind – assorted scripts, some salad dressing, a tin of tuna...

Walk through the doors ahead into the only dressing room…

More a unisex cupboard, the room is littered with cards, costumes and coke cans from shows long gone. The actors don’t seem to have gone though. Their disembodied voices are still here, talking about the ups and downs of sharing a small space with a lot of other people, and taking naps on the floor in rows like sardines…

Open the shutters and look outside…

The Bush perches incongruously above the rushing Shepherd’s Bush traffic. A famous Gents, scene of John Gielgud’s arrest for cottaging, used to sit opposite on the Green, and was allegedly a good place for casting inspiration. Josie Rourke lived in the block over there, keeping an eye on her theatre from the balcony of her flat. Oh, and Aroma, just on the right, does the best coffee...

Go out on to the fire escape…

Many an actor stood out here, smelling the curry from the Indian out back, watching the West London sunset and dragging out a last cigarette before going on stage. Look at all the fag butts in the stairwell…

Walk through the back door, and wait by the red light. It’s turned green…

Your cue. Stride out onto the tiny stage. There’s no-one else in this small, black space, but it doesn’t seem empty. The air is heavy with past plays and past audiences, who sat easily close enough to touch the actors. And sometimes they did…

Exit lines, time to go…

Leave the theatre for the last time, out of the magic box and into the real world (the pub next door). Exits and entrances, inextricably entwined. So many memories are left behind in this building, but every exit is an entrance. The next ones will be at the new Bush, opening around the corner in October. But trust the Bush to squeeze the last from a space that has survived against all the odds. And trust them to sign off with the best piece of site-specific theatre in London, produced by part-time geniuses non zero one. Join their irresistible backstage tour, and take a last look at a unique theatre before it vanishes like a mirage.

This is where we got to when you came in is at the Bush Theatre until 30 September, tickets £15 (£7.50 concessions).

Last Updated 19 September 2011