Yet another pat on the back is due for The Bush Theatre, then, who’ve knocked things out of the park once again with their latest main house show. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, written by Luke Barnes and performed by the excellent folk from Hull’s Middle Child, is a superb piece of gig theatre. Now, I wasn’t sure I knew what gig theatre was until I saw this show and was rather pleased to discover that it is exactly what it says on the tin: part gig, part theatre. A gig with a story, if you like, or a musical with a tonne more oomf and far fewer fucks to give. I like it. This particular one tells the story of Leah and Chris, born on the same day in Hull in 1987, over the course of the next thirty years of their lives; from Thatcher to Brexit to the apocalypse. No really, that’s how the show ends (and frankly given the state of, well, everything at the moment it wouldn’t surprise me if that ending has a basis in fact).
I’m not sure I entirely have the language to describe why I rate this show so highly because it’s so different from anything I’ve seen before. It’s loud and shouty and neon and, just, well, fun in a way that The Theatre is not often. It’s theatre for people who don’t like theatre, but also theatre for people who really like theatre.
Luke Barnes’ writing, part prose part verse, is brilliant: funny, touching, uncomfortable some times, joyously mad other times and always deeply, lovingly human. He has essentially written a rave about disappointment, expectation and what is really important in life. Which shouldn’t really be a thing that works and yet here we are. His structure is clever too, telling thirty years of plot in just 75 minutes by using three distinct acts which are differentiated by the major world events they contain as well as costume and musical style. The latter two are done with tongue firmly in cheek and are great fun. His lyrics, to accompany James Frewer’s energetic, diverse and LOUD music, are also really strong. Also, I love that this play is a proper love letter to Hull and unashamed of it. There should be more ‘ull in London theatre I think. I’m just sad there were no jokes about The Deep.
Director Paul Smith is 100% sure of himself and his cast, justifiably, and his production is superb. He conjures a real mood, something so clearly identifiable you can almost touch it, in a production which is utterly evocative of its setting and time. It helps I suppose that The Bush is basically a small, warm concrete box and from what I remember of my experience of nights out in Hull as a yoof this isn’t far wide of the mark for at least the Hull nightclub set scenes. Designer Bethany Wells and lighting designer Jose Tever do a lot to add to this, with simple but effective work to create Hull down the years in Shepherds Bush.
The cast is an absolute blast: not only phenomenally talented but insanely energetic and, again, just a lot of fun. Marc Graham is off the charts good as the MC, a sort of Brandon Flowers off of The Killers but more versatile and with better eyeliner. James Stanyer is hugely touching as Chris, a tangible sense of disappointment and sadness in his every move. Bryony Davies is equally good as Leah, but swap disappointment for anger. Emma Bright and Joshua Meredith are touchingly relatable and deeply sympathetic as Chris’ overbearing mum and Leah’s struggling dad respectively. Alice Beaumont is an enjoyable bitch as awful, but identifiably real, Holly. Every acts beautifully, sings beautifully and plays whatever musical instruments are demanded of them beautifully. Squad goals, basically.
Having gone in not really knowing what to expect, and in some degree of pain, I was just super impressed by All We Ever Wanted Was Everything - and by Middle Child too. This is a cracking show, unlike anything else in London at the moment and also has the best line of dialogue to end a show, and indeed a blog post: “Live your life. I fucking dare you.”
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything is at The Bush until 24th November.
My ticket for this one was kindly provided by The Bush. I sat in A13 in Block C (not a seat I’d recommend, given it’s right behind a pillar), the normal cost of which would vary depending on how you booked your ticket; £10 if you book via The Bush’s excellent Count Me In scheme.