Friday, April 22, 2016

'Blue on Blue' at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 21st April 2016

Set primarily in a dingy, damp flat, Chip Hardy's Blue on Blue charts the fractious relationship between two damaged men. The first, Moss (Darren Swift) is a veteran who had his legs blown off in the Middle East after being accidentally bombed by Americans. Despite that, he's a gregarious and opinionated type who's reluctant to indulge in self-pity (though nurses a growing bitter streak). 

The second is Moss' nephew Carver (Daniel Gentley), on parole for burglary. Carver initially seems a bit Jack-the-Lad: he's good looking, dresses smartly and seems confident. This proves to be a smokescreen, we soon learn that Carver is just as damaged as Moss; albeit mentally rather than physically. Events are kicked off by the Carver learning of visiting nurse Marta (Ida Bonnast), whose relationship with the both men becomes more than professional.

Darren Swift is responsible for most of what's good in Blue on Blue. From the first scene he's an incredibly charismatic stage presence, all but forcing the audience to like him in spite of his half-baked racism and sexism. Moss is a complex guy, spending much of proceedings blusteringly asserting himself while concealing deep-seated misery. He clearly craves physical contact, the highlight of his week the bathtime hand-job he gratefully receives from Marta.

Additionally, he plays his interactions with Carver with careful complexity. Moss is domineering, manipulative and often insulting towards him, yet there's a core of paternal care that we see more and more of the further we progress. All that is boosted by the simple verisimilitude of a veteran double-amputee playing.. well, a veteran double amputee. Simply watching the way Swift transfers himself from the settee or the floor to his chair just cements the feeling that Moss is a complete, three-dimensional character.

Sadly, the same can't be said for Carver and Marta. Carver, in an excruciatingly obvious bit of nominative determinism, self-harms. This is presented as a symptom of extreme anxiousness and self-loathing - under stress the character regresses back to childish helplessness. There's little to genuinely like about Carver - his persistence in trying to spoil Moss' one moment of happiness each week doesn't exactly endear him to the audience. Frankly, the whole psychology of the character is under-written, leaving Gentely without a dramatic centre to build on, resulting in a one-note performance.

The Marta character is more straightforwardly bad. Written and played as a broad Eastern European stereotype, the efforts to give her depth (Her Dad was an architect! She's studying to be an accountant!) just don't ring true. Things aren't helped by Bonnast's unconvincing cod-Hungarian accent. All that could be overlooked if she was actually funny, but the forced chirpiness quickly gets old.

Swift's performance prevents Blue on Blue from being a total wash - but Moss really deserves to be in a better play. The rest is a stodgy, unpleasant drama that doesn't hit the targets it aims for.


Blue on Blue is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th May 2016. Tickets here.

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