tue 20/08/2019

Blue, Chapter Arts Centre review - heartbreak in the family home | reviews, news & interviews

Blue, Chapter Arts Centre review - heartbreak in the family home

Blue, Chapter Arts Centre review - heartbreak in the family home

Farce and tragedy are evenly balanced in new play from Wales

Nia Roberts, Sophie Melville, Jordan Bernarde and Gwydion Rhys star in the dinner from hellKirsten McTernan

What's worse than grieving? That all-consuming loss. For those that have experienced it, nothing really comes close. It starts to bug Thomas (Jordan Bernarde, main picture second right) during his visit to the Williams household. Recently bereaved himself, he senses the fragility in the air but no-one seems to give a straight answer. Everyone would rather focus on him, talking at speed but never really engaging beyond the surface. In Blue, at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff, this lack of communication is played for both big laughs and hard hits.

Thomas has been brought to the house by Elin (Sophie Melville), a former student of his and now potential lover. She's been working in London, but has recently moved back to Camarthen for reasons not quite clear. They jump between reminiscing and flirting while downing expired eggnog (the only remaining drink in the house). It's a light and familiar dance as the glances become stares, which become leans in and kissing. By the time Elin has mounted him, it's the perfect moment for mum Lisa (Nia Roberts, below right) to return home and ruin the moment. It's quite clear what they've been up to, but somehow she's not noticed. Is she paying much attention?Blue at Chapter Arts Centre Things only get more awkward from there. Before long, Thomas is stuck at the dinner table as a potential blind date for the painfully shy son Huw (Gwydion Rhys, above left). Much of this is driven by the fact no-one really finishes their sentences. It's like they're all out of practice in saying what they mean. The farcical nature reaches its peak when Elin starts getting handsy with Thomas under the table while Huw desperately tries to impress with his Minecraft knowledge. And what better way to end an evening than an unusually competitive game of charades?

Director Chelsey Gillard has done an excellent job of building this comedy on fragile foundations. Everything is light on the surface, but something's clearly bubbling underneath. The performers will often talk over eachother, but avoid eye contact. It makes for some hilarious moments without ever detracting from the emotional core that centres this piece.

Sophie Melville in BlueA hard turn from comedy to tragedy can sometimes feel forced; it's a testament to the actors and the script that here it feels inevitable. Quick changes of topic, misunderstandings, they all point to an elephant in the room. Thomas tries his best to prise it from them, but in the end it's the Williams themselves who can't help picking at old wounds. Melville and Roberts are brilliantly convincing as the mother and daughter unable to finish a glass of wine without sniping at each other. There's jealousy and betrayal in those jibes, but it's exacerbated by the fact no-one can say how they're feeling.

Debuting playwright Rhys Warrington's script expertly balances the absurdity and destruction brought from tragedy. A family unit is built around defined roles and relationships - take one piece out and everyone's displaced. Blue deals with that aftermath, a house where no-one's sure where they stand or who they are anymore; they're stuck in flux. When Thomas finally sits down with Huw to discuss the absent father, it's a revelation not only for the audience but the family themselves, finally confronting what's happened. It's a scene played with real tenderness by both actors, carrying more poignancy than any hysterics could.

Throughout the play, the front door is habitual locked everytime someone uses it. It's a precursor for what's to come, but also adds to the feeling of claustrophobia. Oliver Harman's living room set is cramped and jutting, with the physical walls as implied as the emotional ones. It's a house that feels lived in, filled with old furniture, crammed with history. This closeness is played for uncomfortable laughs early on, but later builds a pressure cooker atmosphere in the intimate theatre space.

Chippy Lane Productions might not be a common name on theatre-goers' tongues, but this is evidence that it might soon be. The final five minutes might be a bit on the nose, but it's still an incredibly affecting piece. Subtly political and overtly heartfelt, Blue is a wonderful way to stifle the laughter and hold back the tears.

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