Blue : Review – Thursday 7th February 2019, Chapter Arts Centre

Blue is a brilliant slow burning drama which is funny and heartbreaking in equal measures.

★★★★★

Created by Rebecca Jade Hammond and written by Rhys Warrington, Blue tells the story of a family in a small coastal town in Camarthenshire teetering on the edge of collapse. It is a beautifully written and dynamically acted production which begins like a kitchen sink drama, but turns into an emotional and poignant statement about caring for those you love and the devastating impact this can have. Warrington’s script is a well written, naturalistic piece which is down to earth and witty, yet packs a raw emotional edge. An original piece of writing, the show premieres in Chapter Art’s Centre before going on to run in London.

Feisty Elin (Sophie Melville) has returned home from living in London, and has bumped into Thomas (Jordan Bernarde) – who she used to know when he was a student teacher at her college. Following a bereavement in his family, Thomas has moved back to Wales too, and the two embark on a booze fueled plan to hook up. Yet things don’t run quite as smoothly as planned, and they are interrupted by Elin’s brother Huw (Gwydion Rhys) and mother Lisa (Nia Roberts). Early scenes are light and comedic, being deftly handled by the cast and by director Chelsea Gillard. Before long this comedy turns into confusion and a comedy or errors, as Lisa misinterprets Thomas’ attendance as Elin trying to set him up with her reclusive brother.

The family find themselves at an awkwardly formal dinner; Elin plays footsie with Thomas under the table, while overbearing matriarch Lisa is attempting to play matchmaker between her son and the visitor. Yet Huw is so painfully socially awkward, that the topic of conversation soon drifts on to his favourite game (Minecraft) and his best friend (Skywalker44 – real name James). Thomas’ sexuality is left intentionally ambiguous – he makes out with Elin at the beginning of the play, yet is clearly affectionate towards Huw. Whether this is more out of politeness, or if there is a mutual attraction between them is never made clear, and this is one of the driving plot points throughout.

Hanging over the whole play is the figure of Elin and Huw’s father. Never seen or even heard on stage, his presence nonetheless is a constant vein of tension and drama throughout. Lisa is clearly grieving and her reminiscing about a necklace he gave her, or how they met, suggests that in some form he is no longer with them. Yet when we discover where her husband is, the unveiling is heartbreaking. It is here that Blue suddenly reveals itself to be much more than just a simple drama, but a poigniant message about the cost (both emotional and literal) of caring for those who you love when they are no longer there.

Featuring a stellar cast, it is difficult to pick out a standout performance in Blue. Each cast member helps bring a different element through their character, whether that is the charming and charismatic Thomas (Bernarde), the neurotic Lisa (Roberts) or the chronically shy Huw (Rhys). The interplay and dynamics between the characters have been excellent developed, and Gillard uses her skills as a director to tease out the tensions between them, as well as creating a production with enough shades of dark and light to keep the audience hooked. There is some beautiful imagery in the production, from Thomas smoking out on the doorstep of the house, to the final image of the show where Lisa symbolically lets go of her pain. If handled incorrectly this final image could have felt cheesy or over dramatic, yet here it is the fitting finale to a powerful production. Blue is a brilliant slow burning drama which is funny and heartbreaking in equal measures.

 

Blue is running at Chapter Arts Centre until the 16th February 2019. For more information and tickets click here

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The Awkward Years: Review – Tuesday 18th September 2018, The Other Room @ Porter’s Cardiff

A strong script and captivating performance combine with well thought through design elements to create a powerful production which will linger in the memory.

★★★★☆

Following the summer break, The Other Room Theatre is back with their co-produced Autumn/Winter Season. First up is a new production with Matthew Bulgo, who has previously worked with The Other Room on the award winning Constellation Street. Directed by Artistic Director Dan Jones, The Awkward Years is a powerhouse one woman show about a woman’s descent into near oblivion following a personal trauma.

Lily (Lauren O’Leary) is a twenty-something whose life is spiralling into an abyss of one night stands, work disciplinaries and arguments with flat mates. The Awkward Years followers her journey as she lurches from bad decision to bad decision, and uses a potent combination of pathos and foul mouthed humour to great effect. Lily is cynical and brash – a well drawn example of a modern woman on the edge of breakdown, and thankfully manages to avoid the millennial angst that typifies many shows of a similar nature.

Bulgo’s script is undeniably strong, with his writing able to effectively conjure up time and place – often difficult during a one person monologue. This is aided by the brilliant sound and lighting design (by Angharad Evans and Tic Ashfield respectively). Lights strobe and pulsate in a representation of Lily’s fracturing life, while Ashfield’s score is an evocative and swirling mix which underpins the emotion and tone of each scene without being overbearing. Once again the space transformation in The Other Room is impressive, with Hilary Statt’s design a simple grey diamond shaped stage on a steep rake with grey stone effect flats behind them. These design elements are simple in nature, but combine to brilliant effect with the tilted angle allowing excellent sight lines as we watch Lily’s life collapse in front of our eyes.

The undeniable star of The Awkward Years is actor Lauren O’Leary. She has the raw energy and dynamism needed to captivate the audience during the frantic one hour run time, and her physicality is exhausting to watch. She is engaging, funny and manages to connect and build energy with the audience. In one hilarious scene, Lily is confronted by her manager in a formal disciplinary and attempts to manipulate him while simultaneously holding back her vomit. Choreographed by Krista Vuori, scenes are cut abruptly with sections of jagged movement – while initially their purpose is not clear, as the play builds towards it’s climax it is clear these are yet another way of representing how out of control Lily is becoming.

While not as immediately emotionally resonant throughout as other recent The Other Room productions (All But Gone for example), the emotional suckerpuch of The Awkward Years sneaks up on you. As Lily hurtles towards oblivion, we are suddenly hit with the news of the unresolved trauma of her life, and the life changing decision she has to make. The scene in which Lily gets blind drunk in a club feels a little laboured and runs for too long, but O’Leary’s performance of this is utterly convincing. In The Akward Years, a strong script and captivating performance combine with well thought through design elements to create a powerful production which will linger in the memory.

The Awkward Years is running at The Other Room Theatre until 2nd June 2018. For more information and tickets click here

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photo credit Kirsten McTernan.