Tag Archives: Ben Whishaw

BLUETS

★★★

Royal Court Theatre

BLUETS at the Royal Court Theatre

★★★

“Undoubtedly audacious and innovative, “Bluets” defies categorisation.”

“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a colour”. So begins both Maggie Nelson’s 2009 novel, and Margaret Perry’s stage adaptation of the same title. If you wanted to find Nelson’s original in a bookshop, it would be filed under ‘poetry’. It comprises 240 prose poems that, although disjointed, explores the themes of sadness, grief and heartbreak. The colour blue is the obvious common thread which gets woven into the short essays like a Satin Bowerbird would decorate its nest with blue items.

Being unfamiliar with Nelson’s novella (as I am) is no handicap when approaching Perry’s interpretation. Every spoken word is lifted from Nelson’s text and moulded into an hour-long monologue, narrated by three actors all playing the same character. They each express the author’s innermost thoughts in an understated fashion that sometimes borders on whispering. The most striking feature is the staging. One cannot fail to notice the bank of cameras occupying the space, and the large video screen across the back wall. The impulse is to groan inwardly. There’s so much of it about at the moment; with Jamie Lloyd repeating the technique for his latest two productions, and even Ivo van Hove jumping on the bandwagon. But you have to remember that director Katie Mitchell pioneered the form, coining it ‘live cinema’ as far back as 2006.

The intention is that the audience are watching a film being made in real time while the finished product is projected onto the screen above the action. In reality, “Bluets” comes across more as a radio play than a film, and the transition from the spoken word to the visual perspective is often a distraction rather than an enhancement. It is ingeniously realised though. With the use of props and a mix of close ups and superimposed backdrops the impression of watching a film is uncannily simulated. We are often in awe at the technical wizardry, not to mention the concentration and prowess of the backstage crew. But the content inevitably suffers, and is overshadowed. So much so that we also forget the starry line up in the cast.

 

 

Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle are A, B and C respectively. But it doesn’t matter, as A, B and C are all the same person. The three performers move and speak as one, finishing each other’s sentences and covering up each other’s frequent non-sequiturs. It often resembles the childhood game of ‘Consequences’, but more grown up and sadly duller. Which is a shame. Stripped of the cleverness that surrounds them, the words would resonate much more if allowed to speak for themselves. Nelson’s writing is beautifully rhythmic, reflective and evocative. There are frequent pauses in the pathos and the poetry. The tight choreography of monologue and movement trips every so often as we worry that a prop is delivered correctly and on time, or that the actor is still on the right page.

Amid the clutter of a film set and the chaos of non-chronological shooting, it is only in the editing room that the vision begins to become coherent. In “Bluets” we get the sense that we are watching the raw material, and we are given little time or space to reflect on what the performers are saying. We are left with having to try and decipher it later, but at least are inspired to root out the original book.

Undoubtedly audacious and innovative, “Bluets” defies categorisation. Sometimes dreamlike, it also shows the grinding cogs that conjure the dreams. It verges on being hypnotic while narrowly avoiding soporific. The hour does seem to stretch, but the urge to look at our watches is mercifully suppressed enough as we are occasionally caught off guard by a moving and lyrical turn of phrase. An intriguing piece of theatre and at times a poignant exploration of grief, loneliness, sadness, heartbreak – but also pleasure. Yet the true emotion is hard to locate in this interpretation and only really tracked down in retrospect; like “a pile of thin blue gels scattered on the stage long after the show has come and gone”. It’s a challenge, but one worth taking.


BLUETS at the Royal Court Theatre

Reviewed on 24th May 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Camilla Greenwood

 


 

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:

GUNTER | ★★★★ | April 2024
COWBOIS | ★★★★★ | January 2024
MATES IN CHELSEA | ★★★ | November 2023
CUCKOO | ★★½ | July 2023
BLACK SUPERHERO | ★★★★ | March 2023
FOR BLACK BOYS … | ★★★★★ | April 2022

BLUETS

BLUETS

Click here to see our Recommended Shows page

 

Julius Caesar – 5 Stars

Caesar

Julius Caesar

The Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 30th January 2018

★★★★★

“This production is exciting beyond compare; chilling and entertaining in equal measure”

 

Never has Shakespeare been told with such clarity and disquieting immediacy. An onslaught from start to finish, it begins at a pop-up, raucous rock gig – a scratch band rallying the mob in the pit. This is the first of many pointers as to why the text is still so relevant today. The crowd are cajoled into cheering for Caesar, without knowing why or what he stands for. It is the story of mass emotions and how easily this can rise to civil war. We are shown, in Nicholas Hytner’s spell-binding production, some disastrous home truths about the nature of men and politics: “Julius Caesar” is a timeless mirror in which the present age can see itself.

Hytner’s decision to play it two hours straight through is inspired and adds to the immediacy. Configured in the round, Bunny Christie’s ingenious set rises up from the ground in differing configurations, forcing the crowd to sway with the tide and be bustled into all corners of the space. You can, of course, choose to sit if you wish, but the experience is amplified, both literally and figuratively, by being among the populace on the ground. When Caesar is assassinated we are forced to crouch to the ground by the gun-wielding conspirators. David Calder’s charisma as Caesar prevents us from saluting this slaughter, though his spot-on portrayal of a man too confident of his own power adds diffidence to our reaction.

Ben Whishaw is a revelation as a twitchy, studious Brutus, unsure of himself yet in command. At close range his facial tics and darting eyes convey his uncertainty in his own reasoning. Everything boils down to terminology, and we almost go along with him when he states that “we shall be called purgers, not murderers”, a hauntingly dangerous and resonant frame of mind to be duped into in today’s world.

Opposite Whishaw, Michelle Fairley’s portrayal of Cassius is impassioned and calculating, but does she ever truly get Brutus on her side? The sheer chemistry between the two comes into the open, particularly in the later scenes as they furiously quarrel then make up.

While the conspirators falter, Mark Anthony sets the seal on their destruction. David Morrissey captures, with diabolical precision, his ability to play the emotions of the crowd. His depiction, along with the entire cast, grips the audience and unflinchingly reminds us that political unrest is a beast that cannot, and must not, be ignored. This production is exciting beyond compare; chilling and entertaining in equal measure. And with the aid of Paul Arditti’s sound design and Bruno Poet’s lighting, it resembles at times a filmic, stylish thriller.

It is an absolute must see. Unfloundering to the end, the last line belongs to Octavius, and recent RADA graduate Kit Young’s (a talent to watch out for) manic smile of jubilation is a sore reminder that history is still on its inevitable and tragic cycle of repeating itself. “How many ages hence, Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, In states unborn and accents yet unknown!”

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


Julius Caesar

The Bridge Theatre until 15th April

 

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com