In Arts Festival fortnight it is a shame that this double bill from ADC and OGTC wasn't better supported, there being an audience of around 20 on the Thursday evening. Depression, the subject matter of Blue, may have put people off it is hard to say why some plays attract more audience than others.
The staging was simple (2 chairs a small table and phone on one side of the stage and a bed and table on the other) and through a series of monologues and short scenes Leo, the central character, tells the story of his illness whilst his elderly infirm mother lies in her nursing home bed, waiting to die and sharing her story and thoughts with the audience.
Gerard Ward (as Leo) and Ruth Tschudin (as his mother) were most impressive in the delivery of their monologues. Their performances were sensitive, heart felt and simple enabling the audience to sympathise and empathise with them. I found the flashback scenes, where they were interacting with each other, less satisfactory. It occurs to me that I would have preferred additional actors portraying the mother with young Leo and that these scenes (and Leo's scenes with his wife, sister, therapists nurse and patient) would have benefited from a more stylised less realistic approach.
In a 45 minute play spanning a life from childhood to present it is difficult to write well-rounded supporting characters and because of this I felt the relationships were awkward and superficial. The drama lies in the spoken thoughts and narration of Leo and his mother and I would like to have seen the supporting actors dressed neutrally and being less concerned with their characterisations. Having said that Geraldine McTier, Colette Lardner Browne, Matt King, Eileen Bagshaw and the voice of Toby Ross gave believable sincere performances and Deborah Emett, as Leo's sister, particularly impressed me with the best performance I have seen from her since she joined ADC.
The author states that 'Blue is an uplifting play about depression' but I'm afraid I didn't find it so. I didn't really understand why Leo suddenly emerged from his depression and wondered how long it would be before he became ill again and the message I got was that people do their best but ultimately you can only rely on yourself.
Black and Blue rooms was a performance taking place around the Abbey buildings portraying an element of the themes that appear in Blue' and featuring Tristan Kear and the cast of Blue. It started in the Checker moving to the Long Gallery down to the under balcony and then back up to the Checker. The atmospheric lighting and music greatly enhanced this abstract piece, which was designed to be open to interpretation.
This 30-minute mime piece started with Tristan lying on a bed then waking and turning to face the audience. He looked at an empty photo frame, took an overdose made a phone call which didn't connect and stared at the wall before leading the audience into the Long Gallery. It is safe to assume that Tristan represented Leo as in Blue Leo took an overdose prior to being taken in for treatment.
The Long Gallery contained neutrally dressed characters blindfolded and variously reading and playing chess. The exception was able to see but was gagged and carried his baggage while trying to influence the people around him by changing a book and taking off a chess players blindfold only to find another one underneath. After spending time with these, and a photographer, Tristan and the baggage carrier settled down to watch a Punch and Judy show. Mr Punch and his wife started off by kissing but this quickly turned to head butting culminating in Judy battering her poor husband to death with a hammer.
Tristan then led us to the Under Gallery where 3 characters (each tied at the hands and blindfolded) lay side by side on tables. He freed the first one who in turn freed the second and third. Unable to cope they then proceeded to replace their shackles and go back to their tables. Tristan and the audience returned through the empty Long Gallery where he turned his back on us and lay back down on his bed.
Characters unable to see playing chess, reading, taking photo's being influenced by a character unable to speak to me sums up the fact that both Leo and his mother were alone and misunderstood and that they had a lack of real communication in their lives. I didn't feel Leo's marriage was very sound and that was reflected in the Punch and Judy show. There were a lot of telephones, separating audience from performers in the Long Gallery, which to me represented the outside world. These phones never rang and were never used to make a call. Finally the characters in the Under Gallery didn't know what to do with their new found freedom and preferred to go back to what was familiar to them as did Tristan turning his back on the audience.
The piece was certainly thought provoking and powerful thanks to the concentration and commitment of the cast who all performed and moved in a very deliberate effective manner managing to convey depth to the simple things which they were required to do.