Back to the Bush Theatre for another new play, and Nick Payne's If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet is a great debut. 15-year-old Anna (Ailish O'Connor) is bullied at school both because of her weight and because her mother Fiona (Pandora Colin) is a teacher there. One day she fights back and is suspended for two weeks, which coincides with the arrival of her uncle Terry (Rafe Spall) at their house. Terry is a bit of a waster but tries, in his highly questionable ways, to help Anna gain some confidence. When he realises his niece has become dependant on him to the point of developing a crush, he panics and does a runner, leaving his brother George (Michael Begley - the priest from Being Human) to pick up the pieces. But George has problems of his own, as he's obsessed with writing a book about climate change, to the detriment of his marriage to Fiona.
This is a dark comedy but for the most part it's very funny, largely due to Rafe Spall's performance as Terry, both instantly lovable and prone to making woefully inappropriate comments. He and O'Connor spark off each other very well, to the point of looking like they're about to corpse a couple of times. Interestingly, with two thirds of the show having been stolen by Terry, Payne opts to leave him out of the final third almost entirely, and the gamble pays off as the focus shifts to the parents, and Colin and Begley make it work (I was surprised I liked the latter's performance to be honest because it's rather broad, but he somehow pulls it off.) Director Josie Rourke keeps things running along at a fast pace and while there's an unmistakeable bleakness to the play, the comedy is what stands out.
Designer Lucy Osborne takes the play's environmental message as her inspiration, painting the whole set (in fact the whole auditorium) in Arctic blues and whites (meaning the family appear to be living inside a glacier, so a bonus bit of symbolism there.) In the small space, with the audience very close to the action, she has the various locations overlapping on stage, and I liked how Rourke's cast deftly make their way around it, giving a strong sense of location. Good work from everyone involved, but Spall inevitably steals the show.
If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet by Nick Payne is booking until the 21st of November at the Bush Theatre.