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Bluets at Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs | Review

There’s been an increasing amount of camerawork in theatre productions in London recently, and the verdict from reviews and audiences has been mixed to say the least. In the programme for Bluets is a double-page spread about ‘Live Cinema’ and another double-page spread called ‘Rehearsing Live Cinema’. With the Royal Court’s main house (or the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, as they insist on calling it) providing some of the most comfortable seats in London – by theatre standards, anyway – one would be forgiven for thinking this to be a picturehouse rather than a playhouse, especially when a lot of the action is only properly visible when looking at the large screen on stage.

Emma D'Arcy in Bluets. Photo credit Camilla Greenwell.
Emma D’Arcy in Bluets. Photo credit Camilla Greenwell.

A (Ben Whishaw), B (Emma D’Arcy) and C (Kayla Meikle) are, as far as I could tell, different expressions of the same person. Their addiction, so to speak, with all things blue extends to having a range of blue objects lined up on the windowsill, through which sunlight comes through for several hours daily – which makes me wonder if the play is actually set in Blighty, regardless of the regular backdrops of London roads, streets, buses and Tube trains. On occasion, the narrators’ infatuation with the colour blue, at variance with much of the rest of the world, leads them to attempt an appreciation of other colours, almost like someone on an extremely restricted diet trying to feed themselves something other than their food of choice. Does it work? Of course not, and the narrative quickly returns to blue, blue, blue.

While there are the inevitable images of the sea and an unclouded sky, the monologue for three (for want of a better expression for how the text is delivered) isn’t about so much about relaxation and relative calmness but rather the character’s dispirited gloom, not helped by the breakdown of a relationship, and a best friend becoming a paraplegic. I suppose there’s some appeal in this story in that the narrator(s) carry on with life as best they can as opposed to completely checking out and withdrawing from society at large.

It’s a delicate piece of theatre, and on occasion individual words within the same sentence are doled out between A, B and C – the end result here is not nearly as jarring as it might have been. At times an actor’s lips on screen weren’t moving in sync with what they were saying, which was a tad off-putting, at least for me. At least the use of microphones is consistent. Stage management is kept busy, making various appearances with props, set and costumes, to the point where I thought they had earned enough stage time to deserve a bow at the curtain call which they don’t get (perhaps, to be fair, they don’t want it).

The ‘live cinema’ format means the show is far better seen from the back row of the circle than the front row of the stalls. Logistically speaking, it’s a challenge to pull a production like this off every night, and it is, if anything, markedly different from many other shows. It’s a rather odd but nonetheless bold choice by the Court’s new artistic director, David Byrne, for his first production programmed for the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. Admirable in its ambition, the show’s dejected state of mind rubs off a little too well on the audience, which isn’t exactly the tonic needed in these already troubled times.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Bluets is a story about depression and desire, pleasure and pain, and a person possessed by a lifelong obsession with the colour blue. Communing with artists like Joni Mitchell, Derek Jarman, Andy Warhol and Billie Holiday, blue is their constant companion as they navigate the devastating pain of a life-altering heartbreak.

Original novel by Maggie Nelson
Adapted for the stage by Margaret Perry
Director Katie Mitchell
Designer Alex Eales
Video Director Grant Gee
Lighting Designer Anthony Doran
Music & Sound Designer Paul Clark
Video Designer Ellie Thompson
Co-Sound Designer Munotida Chinyanga
Assistant Director Ellis Buckley
Assistant Director Aneesha Srinivasan
Stage Manager Greg Shimmin
Deputy Stage Manager Imogen Firth

Cast: Emma D’Arcy, Kayla Meikle, Ben Whishaw

Friday 17 May – Saturday 29 June 2024
Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

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