Blue Heart, By Caryl Churchill. A Double Act of two short plays (first produced in 1997), Hearts Desire and Blue Kettle. At the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol. Hearts Desire, The first play in this co-production between Tobacco Factory Theatres and the Orange Tree Theatre, resets itself 25 times! Thus, providing 25 alternatives to the outcome of a family (played by Amelda Brown, Andy De La Tour and Amanda Boxer) awaiting the return of their daughter (Mona Goodwin) from Australia. A daughter who can perhaps help these people to feel like a family again. They seem to have given up on each other, themselves and their son (Alex Beckett) a long time ago. It is their desperation to welcome her home that drives the unceasing tension which mounts at every interruption.
This is a play that is constantly under revision, interrogating the process of repetition, rehearsal and possibility. An exquisitely performed piece of theatre, demonstrating the utmost technical discipline of both cast and crew.
Director David Mercatali has crafted this production for the round masterfully. The repetition manages to defy all tedium; incurring suspense, tension and excitement while we await which new surprise might affect the fate of this fragile family. He draws upon the nuances of physicality to ensure a water-tight and highly energised performance, each actor bringing a truly unique quality to the dialogue. Angela Davies provides an intelligent and minimal set, just about practical enough to host the family dinner, but not quite. Chris Swain’s Lighting Design punctuates each scene by throwing us abruptly into the recurrent blackouts, while Max Pappenhiem’s score and sound cues draw sharp stabs of Deja-vu and unease, with phone calls and doorbells interrupting at the exact same moment of each speech (the characters oblivious to this repetition and sense of the impending).
Churchill is a master when it comes to taking the recognisable and distorting it so that the spectator is in a constant state of perplexity, while the characters remain unperturbed by their situation. Blue Kettle presents us with a naturalistic tale of Derek (Alex Beckett) and his unusual “hobby” (pretending to be the son of elderly women who had placed theirs into adoption as babies). He manages to convince each woman (Played perfectly by: Amanda Boxer, Amelda Brown, Janet Henfrey and Maroussia Frank) that he is hoping to rebuild a relationship with them (motivated by the monetary benefits of this), until two of the ‘mothers’ meet. A simple story; executed brilliantly with earnest and subtlety by each of the cast.
...In spite of the ‘virus’ which is slowly infecting it.
The virus begins to take over words, replacing them with either “Blue” or ‘Kettle’. Yet, the characters offer no notion whatsoever that they are not speaking in perfect English (another nod to the brilliance of its actors). In notable contrast to the experience of early Absurdist Theatre, the skill of Mercatali and the actors involved, ensures that these pieces rest firm within our recognisable reality. Providing us with an uneasy, yet riveting theatrical experience. I can't recommend this production highly enough. Churchill enthusiasts will not be disappointed.
Blue Heart will be performed at the Tobacco Factory until the 1st of October and at the Orange Tree Theatre from 13 October – 19 November.
(c) Naia Headland-Vanni (2016)