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The Theatreguide.London Review

Christmas is Miles Away
Bush Theatre       Spring 2006

Best friends discover as they leave school that they begin to drift apart until, sadly, they no longer have anything in common.

It is not a new story, but it has rarely been told with such sympathetic insight as in Chloe Moss's new play, or performed with such sensitivity as in this transfer from the Manchester Royal Exchange.

Christie and Luke are Manchester teens with everything in common and so much shared experience that they can speak in the private code and unoffending insults of best buddies.

Luke begins as the clear leader, but over time the dynamic changes. Christie not only does well on his exams and enters college, but begins a romance with the girl he was afraid to speak to, while Luke almost deliberately self-destructs and lets himself drift into the army and (this being 1990) the first Gulf War.

And as the friends continue to meet, they find less and less to talk about, feel less and less comfortable in each other's company, and experience a mourning very close to that of a divorce or a death.

Meanwhile Julie, Christie's girl, tries not to come between them while being unable to dodge the fallout of their confused emotions.

It's that confusion that is the keynote of Chloe Moss's contribution to the familiar tale, the recognition that all three characters are feeling emotions they don't have the life experience to be able to handle or the words to express.

Christie's father dies midway through the play, and a teenager's unpreparedness for grief becomes emblematic for the whole play.

Director Sarah Frankcom and her uniformly excellent cast - David Judge as Christie, Paul Stocker as Luke and Georgia Taylor as Julie - recognise this, and some of the production's finest moments come in the silences between lines, as the characters try to figure out what to feel and what to say.

One small but very telling example - in mid-play Luke and Julie are waiting for Christie on a cold night, and although nothing is said about it, the scene is charged with the discomfort of being with someone you don't really know but feel obligated to be friendly with.

A stage direction merely says that Luke gives her his coat. But director and actors have spotted that Luke would find that gesture uncomfortably intimate, and so he hesitates, fumbles, and then abruptly thrusts it at her, much like a pre-teen snatching a kiss.

The play is full of telling and moving moments like that, with the actors' pauses, body language and relative placement around the stage speaking volumes about the characters' emotions.

The boys' unhappiness when they can't share jokes or enthusiasms any more because they're not based on shared experience, the girl's recognition that her boyfriend is unhappy but in an area she has no right to enter, the horrible moments when they watch their own attempts to reach out somehow turning hurtful - these are all instantly recognisable truths that make the old story fresh and moving.

I can think of very few examples of a playwright who so successfully took a familiar plot situation and made it seem fresh, or of a production that so sensitively captured all its emotional nuances. It's only on at the Bush for a month - don't miss it.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Christmas Is Miles Away - Bush  Theatre 2006


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