In a recent review, Guardian newspaper theatre critic Michael Billington described BU21, currently playing in London, as “a play that questions our assumptions about collective heroism and makes fascinating drama out of personal trauma”.
Written by Stuart Slade, BU21 premiered at London’s Theatre503 last year to great acclaim. It’s since transferred to the West End, where it continues compelling audiences and critics alike.
“I haven’t read a bad thing about it,” says Whitney Richards, who’s followed the UK success of the show in recent times. She’s now also one of the cast members performing on stage at Newtown’s Old 505 Theatre in the Australian premiere of Slade’s celebrated new work.
BU21 contemplates the impact of an enormous terrorist attack – a passenger jet bombing – on the city of London.
“It’s set in the not-too-distant future, and … it will evoke images of real-life events,” Richards tells Theatre People.
“We have six characters who, in some way, were involved in this terrorist attack in London. We follow them through the course of a year and how they are coping … how they’re moving on – or not moving on.”
The Australian premiere of BU21, directed by Erin Taylor and produced by Outhouse Theatre, features a cast that includes Jessica Belle-Keogh, Skyler Ellis, Emily Havea, Bardiya McKinnon and Jeremy Waters alongside Richards. It’s a piece that forces audiences to consider how they would cope in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack.
Richards portrays the character of Floss.
“She feels a little bit like she’s not really entitled to feel sad because nothing actually happened to her,” Richards explains.
“But on the day of the BU21 terrorist attack, a man in his airline chair … crashes into her garden. They make contact for a split second while he’s [still] alive, and then he dies in front of her. So, she starts to fall apart.”
However, despite the gravity of the subject matter, Richards says Slade has injected a considerable amount of humour into the piece.
“This play is scarily funny, without taking away from the seriousness at all, and I think that’s just because they need to laugh – all of them, but my character in particular is grasping at humour to get through.”
Richards is genuinely passionate about BU21 and is excited to have the opportunity to bring a work that has found such success in London to Sydney audiences.
“The writing is almost poetic and it’s stunning, it’s breathtaking … Honestly, when I’m listening to other people [performing the piece], it still makes me gasp or crack up laughing … The writing is amazing.”
So, how does she expect audiences to feel after having seen the show?
“I hope they’ve been utterly engaged … I think they will be,” she says.
“I hope they’ve felt the comedy and the tragedy of it all … I know that it will hit home for people, for sure.”
BU21 – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: The Old 505 Theatre, 5 Eliza Street, Newtown
Season: Now until 25 February
Times: Tues-Sat 8pm
Price: $40 Adult, $30 Concession and Under 30