“I’ve been alive for so long and I haven’t got anything to show for it”
I’m not saying I want Barney Norris to write an all-out farce but it would be fun to see him stretch his considerable literary talent beyond these tales of gentle melancholy that he does so well. While We’re Here doesn’t technically suffer for being in immediately recognisable territory but equally, it doesn’t possess the aching soul that made Visitors a spectacular success.
The ordinary lives under the microscope here are Carol and Eddie’s, lovers from 20 years ago who reconnect when she finds him sleeping rough in their hometown of Havant. Under these strange new circumstances, Norris looks at whether relationships can ever be rekindled or is late-in-life happiness just a myth. Directed by regular collaborator Alice Hamilton, While We’re Here inaugurates the Bush’s new studio space.
It is compellingly acted by Tessa Peake-Jones and Andrew French in the well-observed detail of James Perkins’ design, but the play suffers from a lack of depth. With relatively little time to play with, Norris never really lets us see what might have brought this couple together in the first place, nor really convince us of what is really holding them together now.
And this means that the play’s hope-sapping final beat doesn’t hit with the poignancy and power it could. Without understanding the emotional context in which a key decision is made, it can’t hope to tug on the heart-strings in the intended way. It’s still a quietly affecting play but greedy as I am, I’m wanting more from Norris now.