BU21 is the story of six young people in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Kings Road. It takes courage to explore the subject of terrorism in London on the stage today – and skill to entertain without being mawkish or offensive. So it was with slight trepidation that I headed to Battersea for new play by Stuart Slade.

Thankfully Theatre 503 is great small venue in a lovely pub and BU21 is as much a comedy of characters, a satirical look at the social fabric of young people in this affluent part of London as an exploration of post 9/11 fear. And perhaps it should be no surprise that laughter and despair make perfect partners. As Oscar Wilde said, ‘we should treat all the trivial things of life seriously and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.’

Slade’s writing is always playful from which position he leaps into serious territory without missing a beat. He’s not afraid to show the worst of his characters or point out the worst of his audience through direct address, ‘You’ve paid money to be entertained by a bunch of horrific human suffering,’ jibes Alex played with wicked precision by Alex Forsyth.

Interlocking monologues are a simple and popular structure for intimate spaces (and can be tiresome) but BU21 is structurally more complex than it seems as characters step in and out of interlocking monologues, into the present where all characters attend the ‘survivors group’ or back in time to the juiciest scenes of each characters life. So it is not only the strong voices of the six characters but the relationships between them that keep this subject matter palatable.

‘Human-kind cannot bear very much reality’ T.S.Eliot famously wrote and the six characters with all their defences and peculiarities struggle to keep the trauma of the attack at bay through exploration, love, delusion and biscuits. Some with more success than others.

There is virtually no set but six bodies in this space are enough to bring this tale of destruction home. It’s as if survival instinct itself drives this drama forward with acute characterisation, sharp dialogue and high stakes throughout. The energy and of the young cast is palpable, each one breathing life into this exciting new play and filling the small, black box with light.

Pub theatre at its best.

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