There’s a wonderful buzz of excitement in Theatre503’s lobby pre-show as a gaggle of teens wait for the doors to open. There is always something good about seeing such an audience, and you really hope for a great show that will entice them back again and again; to experience the thrills that fringe theatre can offer.
It’s with almost a sigh of relief then that the opening of The Last Bus to Fenchurch Street delivers a monologue that surely encapsulates what fringe theatre can be; an utterly random piece about koalas being doomed, while a recently arrived guest just watches on perplexed and speechless. It’s safe to say this play already has my – and the whole audience’s – full attention.
So why is J (Ben Adams) perplexed, not just about the koalas, but more so about why Cas (Naomi Thorp) has invited him this evening? Probably something to do with the fact they haven’t spoken for seven years. Her invitation is therefore more than a little out of the blue! And what starts oddly gets a whole lot weirder for him when Cas casually mentions the world is going to end in eight hours and she’d like to spend that time with him. How does she know the world is going to end? It’s got a lot to do with the number 25. But why then, if they only have eight hours left, does she want to spend it with someone she hasn’t spoken to since school? And why does J stay even though he has a wife and kids to go home to?
This two-hander is a wonderful first full outing for Basically Theatre. In writer Toby Moran Mylett they have someone who knows that subtlety is a powerful tool, while director Corey Hennelly’s gentle touch lets that subtlety breathe, yet still allows his actors the space to milk the script for every gentle little laugh present. Nothing here is distinctly spelled out for the viewer; rather it is simply suggested. It’s wonderful to see them trusting their audience to put the pieces together for themselves.
Thorp’s Cas is wonderfully complex. You’re drawn to this 20-something who’s utterly convinced the end is nigh. At first there is confusion as to how she is so certain of this outcome, but as the play reaches its zenith, it’s her vulnerability that makes you want to leap up on stage to hug her and tell her it will be OK. Thorp somehow takes us through many emotions, from the wise-cracking, direct young woman we first meet to the lonely, scared girl watching out the window, talking of the pain she feels as she sees the world (and those koalas) burn around her. Adams’ J can’t quite compete in depth of character (there feels a slight imbalance in the writing here), but what he lacks in character he makes up for with marvellous comic timing, playing off Thorp perfectly to elicit laughter at the most unexpected moments.
The Last Bus to Fenchurch Street is a delightfully touching play. It immediately draws you in to its depths as you try to understand why Cas wants the world to end. Come the close, I’m left pondering about her and her fears for the planet. I’m also wondering just what our younger audience members (who it turns out are here due to some teaching connection with the director) have made of it all. What a joy it would be to eavesdrop afterwards on their excited conversations about possibly their first fringe outing.
Written by: Toby Moran Mylett
Directed by: Corey Hennelly
Produced by: Theatre503 and Basically Theatre
The Last Bus to Fenchurch Street played as part of Theatre503’s #503Resets season, and has completed its current run.