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Theatre review: Like a Fishbone 
30th-Jun-2010 10:13 pm
tragicomedavatar
It's a powerful theatrical setup - an unexpected nighttime visitor arrives to provoke an unwelcome confrontation with someone who in some way affects their life from a distance. In Anthony Weigh's Like a Fishbone, a Dunblane-like massacre has taken place in a tiny village's church school. We're in the offices of The Architect who designed a memorial for the tragedy, when she's confronted by a blind woman, The Mother of one of the dead children. She says her daughter appeared to her in a dream and said the planned memorial was wrong, and a different design should be chosen.

Weigh's script is full of deliberate vagueness (even the characters don't have names) and to start with this all works but it does begin to cause problems. The Mother wants to know what the memorial will look like so when The Architect starts describing it (to a blind woman) in the most abstract terms imaginable, it's just irritating - I didn't know what she was on about and I could see the model. I also found it hard to pinpoint where the play's debate was meant to centre; at first it's a general debate about how we remember the dead, and although I would generally side with The Architect's opinion of remembering the truth, it's fair to say the suggested memorial is pretty appalling. About halfway through the focus shifts rather abruptly to a religious vs secular argument, and in the process The Architect makes a pretty outrageous assumption that even as a non-religious person I found vaguely offensive, but which goes unchallenged. The vagueness and uncertainty unquestionably adds to the air of mystery and the sense of universality, but it does leave you thinking that the audience hasn't been clued in on a number of important story points.

Still, Josie Rourke's production rises above some of these problems, although there are sections of the story that essentially come down to the two women screaming at each other for minutes at a time, which gets trying. Deborah Findley as The Archiect and especially Sarah Smart as The Mother are excellent, while the awesome Phoebe Waller-Bridge is rather underused but gets some nice opportunities to break the tension as The Intern. And Lucy Osborne's set is impressive, convincing you, despite the bright sunshine and heat you've just walked in from, that it's a dark night during a downpour. Some interesting themes raised, but I felt that in trying to get a sense of universality Weigh loses focus.

Like a Fishbone by Anthony Weigh is booking until the 10th of July at the Bush Theatre.
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