The Invisible at the Bush is an important new play, says Penny Flood
In this new play, commissioned by The Bush, Rebecca Lenkiewicz looks at the effects of the cuts in legal aid caused by LASPO (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) on the people who need it most. They're The Invisible, the inconvenient ones that society doesn't want to see, the ones who can't afford to pay and who don't fit into the ideology of a government that favours the rich and powerful.
They're not inadequate, workshy scroungers, they're ordinary folk to whom life has dealt a bum hand. All the stories here are based on real life cases, even Gove and Grayling get a name check.
It's a very political piece of work and it's angry. This is what's happening now in real time in real life. But it's not all hectoring, it's also very entertaining with plenty of humour among the sadness and despair.
The cases we see are Aisha (Sirine Saba), a young Pakistani girl desperate to escape an arranged marriage that has turned violent; Ken (Nicholas Bailey) whose ex-wife won't let him see his children and Sean (Niall Buggy) a gentle, middle aged man whose benefit has been overpaid and he can't afford to pay it back. And there are others offstage - the woman who can't afford to pay the bedroom tax on the room left empty by the death of her daughter, and an old man facing homelessness because he won't get rid of his dog. Look out for the dog, it pops up later in a particularly telling scene.
At the heart of the action is the Cromwell Law Practice, under-funded, over-worked and threatened with closure, run by Gail (Alexandra Galbreath). Gail is assisted by Laura (also played by Sirine Saba), her no-nonsense and equally dedicated PA. They both care desperately about the work, and it's taking a toll on their personal lives and relationships. In her spare time Gail trawls internet dating sites and has frantic sex with a man she seems to have only just met, while Laura is stuck with the parasitic, would be poet, Ryan (Scott Karim).
Like Sabine, Karim also plays two roles. He's Riz (a much stronger character than Ryan), the violent, mummy's boy husband Aisha is trying to get away from. But does Aisha have enough bruises to prove she's worthy of help?
Just as you thought things couldn't get worse, the eviction notice arrives prompting Laura makes a wry comment about big business taking over law centres, and she's only half joking. Then tragedy strikes.
However, it's not all perfect, there are some bits that grate. The musical interludes that interrupt the stories are irritating. Lenkiewicz is no Dennis Potter. The scene where Niall Buggy doubles up as Andy on another of Gail's unsuccessful internet dates, although amusing, is silly, and Ryan's arrival and his inability to make a good cup of tea borders on the unnecessary. He's a weak character and a conversation between the two women would have driven the point home.
But these irritations aside, this is an important play, the first to tackle the devastation caused by LAPSO, with a message that shouldn't be ignored.
The Invisible continues at The Bush Theatre in Uxbridge Road until August 15. Book tickets online or 0208 743 5050.
July 17, 2015