There’s more to “Goldhawk Road,” Simon Bent’s second Bush Theater play in three years, than its apparent inconsequentiality might at first suggest. A look at the denizens of a west London council house on the very street adjacent to the theater, Bent’s knockabout drama provides a kicky start to the Bush’s “London fragments” season — three plays about life in the capital now.
The house is ruled by aging bus driver Jack (Trevor Martin), an ailing malcontent –“It used to be like an ironing board,” he growls, surveying his stomach — who finds visions of death everywhere from his perch on the living room sofa. While colleague John (Jack Carr) joins Jack in doom-laden prophecies and strives to keep his own womanizing from his (unseen) wife, cleaner Mary (Elizabeth Bell) is unexpectedly reunited with her daughter Julia (Julie Saunders), on the run from a failing marriage.
The younger generation is headed by Jack’s illegitimate sons Reg (Neil Stuke) and Colin (John Simm), and by the scheming Ralph (Danny Webb), who spies a potential fortune in Jack’s seedy home. Ralph’s girlfriend, Jo (Suzanne Hitchmough), a self-described “anarcho-syndicalist” (!), sets the male libidos going, as does an unwitting Julia, herself the mixed-race byproduct of an unhappy liaison between her white mother and an errant black father.
Under Paul Miller’s direction, the first act rather laboriously establishes the various comings and goings, and one could be forgiven for dismissing the play at the intermission as so much amiable aimlessness. Bent’s intentions, though, pay off in act two, once the Altmanesque (as in Robert) driftings of his characters combine with a sense of imminent transition and loss to suggest a kind of cockeyed “Cherry Orchard,” with working-class turn-of-the-century London now filling in for provincial turn-of-the-century Russia then: It’s surely no accident that Bent, like Chekhov, ends his play with a collective leave-taking from a home, amid which one character remains lost in reverie.
As his 1994 Bush play, “Bad Company”– set by the Scarborough seaside — first made clear, Bent knows how to build interest beyond a character’s initial posturing. The philandering John, for instance, makes his duplicity comically engaging as he dials woman after woman, juggling his various conquests. But there’s genuine pathos, too, to someone whose entire life has become a lie, as his 11th-hour revelation makes poignantly clear.
Carr’s deft performance is inseparable from a first-rate cast among whom Stuke, fondly remembered from last year’s “Not a Game for Boys,” once again couples bravado with real charm, whether propositioning an uninterested Julia or lamenting the loss of his boomerang up a tree. Webb’s belligerent bonhomie as the laddish Ralph — he’s forever offering Jo up to his mates only to be surprised when one of them accepts — itself gives way to the recognition that life on the margins in the bleak ’90s is no laughing matter.