Bones, Bush Theatre, London

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The recent plays by Kay Adshead that I have seen have had two ingredients in common: a passionate concern about oppression and an element of (in the broadest sense) the supernatural. Bones follows this pattern, eventually, although it takes a while to come into focus. For the first half-hour or so of the two-hander, as opening moments with a boy under police interrogation in the old South Africa gave way to scenes of white domestic affluence with an ageing woman preparing for the death of her husband, I was wondering whether Adshead had missed the boat by 20 years or so.

As the household is revealed to be in the new Rainbow Nation (even though Pauline Moran’s Jennifer is an unreconstructed white patrician), with its rose garden being dug up as a possible ancestral burial site and housemaid Beauty (Sarah Niles) claiming to have a hotline to the spirit world, the picture grows heavy with portent. When the bodies found beneath the blooms are identified as decades rather than centuries old, the mutilated remains of victims of police torture, and we learn that the off-stage dying Pieter had been a police officer, we pretty much know what is coming. Only the details of how Jennifer discovered the truth remain to be filled in.

Adshead says this is a hopeful play, but the reconciliation and forgiveness, when they come, seem perfunctory and forced compared with what has preceded them. Her own over-suspenseful direction does not help matters (and Joe Legwabe’s live drumming is impressive, but the performance I saw started so late that I began to recall why I used to avoid Covent Garden Tube station, the erstwhile haunt of a busking percussionist).

Adshead’s programme notes also explain that she was inspired to make the play for her then-partner in the Mama Quillo company, the actress Lucinda Gane (who was to have created the role of Jennifer but fell victim to cancer), in such a way as to make one feel positively wicked for not loving it to bits. ★★★☆☆

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