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Review of Blue on Blue at the Tristan Bates Theatre

Blue On BlueThis is a play that repels. Even what attracts at first, Marta, charismatically played by Ida Bonnast, ultimately becomes repellent. Leavened only by a dark humour, often two edged and offensive, this will not be a comfortable evening at the theatre and you will know that within seconds of the opening.

The language is often coarse and offensive, images described often fall under the description of too much information while the disabilities described, both visible and invisible, set out to challenge empathetic preconceptions.

For what this production reveals is our society’s ineffective conventions and attitudes towards disabilities, whether apparent at first sight or not. The differences between not having the use of legs and needing a wheelchair and being socially and mentally handicapped by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in this instance.

Darren Swift as the physically handicapped Moss, disabled in action by friendly fire (‘Blue on Blue’), is merciless in his devastating portrayal of a tough, capable man who refuses to shrink from the difficult, ruthless in his pursuit of whatever it is he wants. Knowing his own nature and relishing his ability to survive.

Moss’s treatment of Marta, as his good-natured, attractive home carer, is as politically incorrect and exploitative as it’s possible to get. She is Romanian, female, dismissed, just a “Commie.”

There’s a preoccupation in some sections of London theatre at the moment with the portrayal of Eastern European women as sexually available, trashy, flashy, materialistic sirens. Becoming a tiresome cliché that communicates little about the truths of these women, the daughters of mothers contained within the materialistic and personal deprivations of Eastern Block Communism in the 1980s. Having to queue for hours outside a bakery with just the faintest hope there might be bread for sale.

That in the year in which this production is set, 2016, Marta would be wearing high heeled boots and a short skirt to do housework and to give Moss a bath in her professional capacity, is untruthful to real life and this costume diminishes the women, wives, mothers and students alike who do these poorly paid, difficult jobs. Also reducing the true and interesting issue here, which is the consequences of women, even when not dressed up like a ‘dolly bird’, of going into the home of single, perhaps frustrated, physically or mentally disabled men, to care for them in intimate ways.

The deployment of props in this production are, however, notably fantastic. Uniformly redolent of a particular era circa 1998, suggesting there had once been time when there was enough money to buy what was in fashion then, although not since.

Carver is played with vulnerability by Daniel Gentely, who breaks him down in front of us from the image of a capable young man to a display of the horrendous, hidden social limitations of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. As we grow to know what lies beneath his surface, we also get to know Marta better, who changes from initially lifting every scene in which she appears with the possibility of joy, to becoming a source of do-gooder frustration as we become familiar with her anodyne, narrow attitudes.

Some members of the audience found Carver’s displayed OCD behaviour funny. Just as in life then.

This is an angry, dark play, directed with a slow, relentless hand by Harry Burton. There is no flinching from the difficulties and ugliness of disability in a culture too inclined to look no further than the superficial.

Going to the production will not be an enjoyable evening, unless you, like Moss, likes to laugh at sexism along with racist and handicap jokes but, as it pokes you to provoke your responses you will find much to consider, that will linger.

3 Star Review

Review by Marian Kennedy

Badly wounded in action by friendly fire, army veteran Moss lives in a small flat with his highly- strung nephew Carver. When Marta, a young Eastern European carer, enters their tiny world the results are as disruptive as they are well-intentioned.

Created with support from leading charities BLESMA and Harmless, the show offers a vivid and rare insight into the lives behind the headlines as our armed forces continue to engage in conflicts across the world.

Written by Chips Hardy, this powerful, insightful and blackly comic play is presented by London-based company The Skullcap Collective.


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