Blue on Blue, Tristan Bates Theatre

There’s been a lot of attention on the lack of diversity in theatre lately. White, middle class, able-bodied males dominate theatre and the industry is finally beginning to see that it’s a problem. More diverse work is now creeping into the spotlight, as it should, but it’s usually labelled as “BAME theatre”, “working class theatre”, disabled theatre” or whatever the appropriate qualifier happens to be. That’s all fine in the short term, but if theatre wants to make true progress in diversity, it needs to move away from these labels and have a diverse cast in plays of all genres, time periods and topics. Theatre needs to aspire to be just “theatre” that is blindly inclusive of race, gender, dis/ability.

Chips Hardy’s Blue on Blue does just that. The play is fundamentally about mental health in a domestic drama setting, but happens to have a character who’s a double amputee and wheelchair user. It’s not about Moss’ disability, but his relationship with his nephew Carver, who is struggling to build a normal life as a self harmer with OCD. This little, well-made play with great performances is the sort of theatre that truly works towards championing diversity.

Daniel Gentely as Carver is a tormented 30-something trying to put his life back together after falling on hard times. He’s got a job at a garden centre and some carer responsibilities for his uncle whom he lives with, Ronnie Moss (Darren Swift), and things are on the up. But he can’t cope when the world flits beyond his control, even though he desperately tries to engage in “normal” activities, like going out with his mates or fucking Moss’ carer Marta (Ida Bonnast) in Moss’ wheelchair in the middle of the night. His defensive banter and tough guy exterior with Moss eventually give way to a rewardingly vulnerable core. This transition is lovely and shows both Gentely’s range as a performer and validates male emotional need. Swift’s similarly hardened outside, which categorises people into one of the “five kinds of cunts in the world” and wants to be left alone by his overbearing nephew, abruptly gives way to genuine care and warmth. Bonnast also has the opportunity to show some great emotional contrast as the Hungarian care worker studying accountancy who genuinely wants the best for everyone, and the three display a wonderfully consistent chemistry in the hardest and easiest of moments. 

Hardy’s script follows a conventional, linear structure which works well for following his characters’ journeys. It’s a character-driven story that, though just over an hour, has three scenes that are essentially miniature acts. Though the narrative arc is fairly smooth, it’s steep and could adapt well to lengthening. It harks back to Miller, Williams, and the like but doesn’t feel old-fashioned in the least. It’s a current play, with modern issues, families and their messed up baggage. The two scene changes are needlessly long, but other than this, faults are few.

Blue on Blue, though conventional in style still feels progressive with its inclusivity. Hardy’s intuitive dialogue and similar ability from the cast make this a strong play deserving of a solid future.

Blue on Blue runs through 14 May.

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