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  • Henry Longstaff

Paradise Now! - Bush Theatre

Essential oils make for essential viewing


Congratulations and welcome to the Paradise Pack! Here you can start your own small business, work your way up the company ladder and reach those goals you’ve been dreaming about - once you pay the £250 sign-up fee to get the Paradise binder that is. Pyramid selling, multi-level marketing schemes, call them what you like but we all know the danger and miss-truths that are sold with their promises of growth. Margaret Perry’s new play explores their faux feminist world, the circumstances that drive vulnerable people to sign up and the fallout when blunt realities arise.

In an effort to support her resolute sister, Gabriel has signed up to Paradise - having attended a women in business seminar and clicking with the ambitious Paradise veteran Alex. Determined to make something of herself she begins selling essential oils and recruiting more women to the MLM “fempire.” Suddenly surrounded by like-minded individuals and with promises of making a fortune she rockets upwards but the lofty view is not as she quite envisioned. Other members share their goals and struggles as some begin to question what exactly it is they have agreed to be a part of.

Perry’s script is magnificent. It equally thrives in both its grounded reality and eccentric highs with stylised assistance from director Jaz Woodcock-Stewart. The dialogue is effortlessly natural and relatable, impressively giving depth to all of the characters and housing enough twists and turns to ensure it is captivating and heartbreaking right to the end. Despite navigating complex and heavy topics this play is nothing short of hilarious. The absurdist comedy layered throughout is clever and welcome light relief. The clash of character weaknesses with genuinely funny quips and scenarios is masterful.

The ensemble of Paradise recruits gel together remarkably well as the actors are given space to play and nail their comedic timing, equally strong in group scenes as they are in one-to-one moments - there is no weak link. Michele Moran (Gabriel) works well with all her scene partners, particularly in naturally vulnerable moments with Carmel Winters (Baby). Ayoola Smart (Carla) and Annabel Baldwin (Anthie) are effective and believable as a couple and thrive when bringing that relationship into the group setting. Shazia Nicholls is wonderful as Alex, whose character has to manage the uncomfortable shifting hierarchies and Rakhee Thakrar brings plenty of well-delivered humour that steadily shifts into awkward truths. The casting for this production is a ten out of ten success.

Rosie Elnile’s set is intelligent in its versatility. Initially, it appears to be an almost clinical wood-panelled room with a simple pillar placed just off centre but over the course of the play, beds appear out of the wall, water features are revealed, as is a delightful makeshift bowling alley. The design is effective in giving the production the tools it needs to meet the stylised direction, allowing people and set to swiftly rotate on and off stage and forms a strong backdrop for nice lighting and projection. For a space that is not overly generous in size, Elnile’s design is exactly what is needed.

Direction from Woodcock-Stewart builds on the sturdy foundations of Perry’s script to ensure that this play does not miss an inch of its potential. Despite a necessary steady start, the pacing is wise, letting no moment be wasted but leaves space to toy with lengthy, instinctively natural pauses that continue to warrant laughs and simultaneously feel quietly ordinary. This uncomfortable celebration of those risking everything to achieve their goals deserves to be seen by large audiences - do not let it fly under your radar.

Photography - Helen Murray

Running till 21 January - Tickets

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