Theatre Review: All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, Bush Theatre ‘Tender and Affecting’

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It may seem a tad confusing to describe a piece of gig theatre that pounds with rock beats as touching and affecting but that duality is exactly what intrigued and delighted me about this production from Middle Child and, in particular, playwright Luke Barnes and musician James Frewer.

In it, we meet Leah (Bryony Davies) and Chris (James Stanyer), two kids born and raised in Hull – both in single-parent households but one from a background of relative wealth and means, the other not. And we follow these two from their births in 1987 through to their 30th birthdays in 2017, through their trials and tribulations, their anxieties and failed dreams, all set against a background of a world that is forever turning – ignorant and unaware of their existence – and that of a giant asteroid hurtling across the galaxies towards Earth.

Why this? Because it’s disappointment that we are looking at here. It is the unbearable weight of an average existence. It is the pointlessness of having dreams and ambitions in this world where the oppressive capitalist and class systems ensure they will never come true. It is the terror of isolation in our busy lives. It is our loneliness and lack of any true emotional connection. And it is the lie we are sold that working hard will bring you fortune.

I will always have a special place in my heart for art that elevates and makes epic our ordinary lives. Maybe it’s having been brought up on Springsteen blended with my own experiences, but that is exactly what is achieved here.

Dialogue is spouted as verse and rhyme, as if this is an epic poem – an art form usually reserved to revere heroes and kings. Yet this is a production that centres the ordinary and disappointing. It makes poetic the lives of those of us who will never amount to very much, living in shadows of oligarchs and celebrities.

And the decision to fuse this with music is an inspired one. James Frewer narrates and choreographs the show with charm and flair, blending Leah’s and Chris’s struggles through adolescence and early adulthood with the efforts and sacrifice of their parents to provide them with the opportunities they never had. There’s some wonderful and heart-breaking touches of intergenerational pressures and resentments and the asteroid hurtling through the sky, getting ever closer to us, a constant reminder on the futility of it all.

But the music also prevents this show became maudlin and depressing. It brings an energy that balances out the despair well. And there’s some nice comic touches with the observations on cultural changes as time passes that make you smile.

The cast perform this with verve and the direction from Paul Smith is excellent. No scene ever outstays its welcome, and the balance between plots lines is perfect. And its final rousing call daring us to live truthful lives is one that will stay with you.

Bush Theatre, London, to November 24.
Tickets from £10.
All production images by Helen Murray.

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