Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Review Blue Heart
by Caryl Churchill
The Discreet Harm Of The Bourgeoisie
Ah, it turns out Boris Johnson was only following in the footsteps of Caryl Churchill in presenting alternate scenarios in writing.
For the first play Heart's Desire, part of a double bill under the title Blue Heart, does exactly that in director David Mercatali's sparky revival at the Orange Tree Theatre in association with Bristol's Tobacco Factory Theatres.
First performed successfully in 1997 (and we suspect the politics and events swirling around at that time underpins the two plays), Heart's Desire and Blue Kettle turn out to feel just as perky in 2016.
Equally interestingly in different ways the plays leave space for the audience to almost become an expectant character, write its own script and achieve a kind of satisfying dissatisfaction with its own interpretation.
We should of course mention the plays are also very funny.
In Heart's Desire, a family on the verge of a meal together await the return of a 30-something daughter from Australia. But this becomes a kind of Groundhog Day moment without the upbeat trajectory or memory of previous occasions.
Dad Brian (a lugubrious turn from Andy De La Tour), grounded Alice (Amelda Brown) and girlish Auntie Maisie (Amanda Boxer) seem doomed to repeat the same scenario again and again.
At first the variations are obvious. The subtle rumble of a tube train (sound effects Max Pappenheim) trails a phone call any family would dread. But afterwards in the repetition controllable verbal sparring becomes more flagrantly random and is interrupted by another wildcard arrival of alcoholic son Lewis (Alex Beckett).
When daughter Susy (Mona Goodwin) finally arrives, she has the cut glass tones of a Noel Coward character before - yes, it's all cut off for another round of our expectations fulfilled and then denied.
We certainly don't want to spoil the spontaneity but a visit from a Pinteresque totalitarian bureaucrat, an outsize bird in need of a manicure and a firearms' episode all figure, along with a Beckettian-crossed-with-Kafkaesque carnivorous human version of a dog chasing its own tail.
The second play of the evening Blue Kettle eats into itself in another way. A middle-aged man Derek (Alex Beckett) sets out to con several elderly woman from different stratas of society that he is the baby each of them gave up for adoption many years previously in the hope of money and property.
But at the same time there's just a touch of the patronising superior actor or even playwright about him, policing the women thinking he can measure and control their reactions. As his plans implode, words take on a linguistic life of their own and finally break down, just as painters can eschew photographic realism with outlandish colours and disintegration on the canvas.
This is an unsettling yet invigorating evening with a fine cast in a pared-down effective set from Angela Davies and lighting from Chris Swain sharply defining scenes.
It's a green light for plays with enough of a hook in shared human experiences to wrench us out of the comic absurd into more achingly human personal and political territory of trust and betrayal.