In London, Contemporary Anxieties Take the Stage

In London, Contemporary Anxieties Take the Stage

What happens when the world at large simply proves too much? One answer is on compelling view in “Collapsible,” an hourlong play that was a hit at last summer’s Edinburgh Festival. The director Thomas Martin’s keen-eyed production has been extended until March 21 at the Bush Theater, the West London venue devoted to new writing that is on a roll between this and the New York-bound “Baby Reindeer.”

The cunning design by Alison Neighbour tips you off to the precarious state of the internet-addicted Esther, or Essie, whom we find perched atop a plinth of sorts from which she seems about to tumble. (The stage floor looks like gravel but is in fact a mix of various materials including charcoal and cork.) Having lost both a job and a partner, Essie lets rip with a fusillade of language to match Michael’s in “Death of England,” the difference being that Breffni Holahan’s Essie speaks even faster than Spall, if more quietly. The Bush’s studio space seats only 60, which allows for greater intimacy.

Essie’s thirst for news — “the planet bucking like a horse trying to throw us all off and out into space,” as she describes the state of things — provides a daily catalog of woe writ small as well as large. A Sky television modem, we’re wryly informed midway through a litany of far more terrible disasters, has not yet arrived. Margaret Perry, the play’s Irish writer, keeps the images pouring forth in a lava flow of language that the superb Holahan navigates with confidence.

There’s a dark comedy to be found in Essie’s various job interviews, as well as her reckoning with friends and family, from whom she is forever requesting the one word that might best describe her before she slips into a mental abyss. “Smart,” replies her father. “That’s your ration of compliments for the year.”

Both author and performer achieve a neat trick in the closing moments that shouldn’t be revealed here beyond a change in perspective that catches the audience unawares. That is followed by a haunting exchange of the word “OK,” though whether Essie or the world she inhabits really is remains movingly up for grabs.

Death of England. Directed by Clint Dyer. National Theater / Dorfman, through March 7.

The Haystack. Directed by Roxana Silbert. Hampstead Theater, through March 12.

Collapsible. Directed by Thomas Martin. Bush Theater, through March 21.

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