Is it ever better not to know? What if, for example, you suspected your own government was complicit in the torture of terror suspects? Pentabus Theatre’s new production Blue Skies gives us the moral answer quite plainly: no. The plot centres on a freelance journalist, Jane (Sarah Malin), who is on a mission to uncover the truth about America’s extraordinary rendition policy, tracking the suspicious movements of a private jet which constantly shuttles between the US and the Middle East, stopping over at various European airports. Coincidentally, the plane just happens to pass through the tiny rural airport where her old flame, Ray, played by Jacob Krichefski, spends his free time plane spotting. He soon realises that Jane’s reappearance isn’t just a social call and begins to fear the repercussions of involving himself with Jane’s ambitious journalistic investigation into the CIA. The tale is complicated by the entrance of Ray’s daughter, Ana (Dominique Bull), a student activist wannabe journalist who completely fails to hit it off with hard-nosed Jane.
Written by Clare Bayley, Blue Skies sets global political scandal against a backdrop of domestic emotion; Ray and Jane dance around the idea of reigniting their relationship while Ana tries to extract the truth about her politicised mother from a cagey Ray. On the whole, the acting is very good and there are some great characters, particularly Ray, the timid anorak with an interesting past and Mina, the wife of a terror suspect (Manjeet Mann), who stubbornly prefers to believe he has left her rather than accept Jane’s conspiracy theory. What lets the production down, though, is the unconvincing chemistry between Jane and Ray, and the lack of momentum in the play as a whole. Blue Skies is described as a “political thriller” and while it certainly delivers on the politics, there’s not a lot of thrilling going on. The action plods, drifting between scenes of Jane listing endless flight details and moving her mother’s old ornaments about in illustration of destinations, and stereotypical family moments with Ray and Ana. In fact the most exciting it gets is when Ray and Jane peer half-heartedly through the airport fence snapping photos of the secret CIA plane.
Blue Skies attempts to open a dialogue about knowledge and freedom through the actions and decisions of our leaders in the recent past but on the stage the plot lacks energy and fails to inspire. It’s all a bit too obvious and simplistic; Bayley morally instructs rather than encourages us to ponder and engage with the complex issues she raises. It’s entertaining and touches on problems which are hugely important, but all the preaching is rather nauseating.
Blue Skies is at Hampstead Theatre until Saturday 10 October. For more information and to book tickets, visit the Hampstead Theatre website.