Some plays may seem familiar; but the best are always the ones that should be done again. Blue definitely falls into both these categories.
Studio spaces frequently attract experimentation, something form-bending, and yet their purpose is usually mainly to give life to new voices. Rhys Warrington and Chippy Lane create an intricate play of naturalism; weaving in subtext and character development artfully, and demonstrating the potential of the real to resonate without the need to experiment.
The most distinct presence within this production is that of absence; of the fourth family member shrouded in silence. Whether it is Huw’s (Gwydion Rhys) hesitancy to break the silence; or the mother’s (Nia Robert) desperation to fill it, the audience are aware of the absence from the beginning. Only as conflicts arise over half-way through do the layers peel back, and the bright blue door which draws the eye amongst the matching mahogany, and must always remain locked, is revealed to have sombre symbolism.
The comfortability of the flowing dialogue and relaxed family dynamic in which finishing each other’s sentences is second nature, is comedic and relatable. However, this comfortability soon shifts, not through the characters’ sudden altering attitudes, but through subtle intensifications. Huw’s mother’s incessant, hopeful guidance through his ‘love life’ slides into possessiveness as she dictates his sentences. Arguably, this is the most poignant element of the play, as Huw appears to relinquish all sense of his identity.
Rhys skilfully conveys Huw’s autism subtly, through the sense of internalisation and the constant swaying movement of his body. This is mirrored through the writing, as Huw frequently begins to speak, only to have his thoughts catch-up with him and he cuts himself off with an “I dunno.” The inexplicit yet implied autism becomes more prevalent as Huw literally interprets his mother’s instructions. Although initially provoking laughter from the audience, as Huw rolls off questions like “How was your day?” and “Do you have any pets?” without leaving time for a response, the undercurrent of subtext clearly hits some of the audience. This inability of the family to communicate and understand each other’s minds is pin-pointed most strongly when sister Elin accuses him of being “too caught up in your own tragedy.”
The awkward love-triangle (or possibly square) is comedic without relying on jokes, and the wrenching up of past is heartfelt. Despite this, I believe the best aspect of this performance was the characterisation, conveyed by both the brilliant acting of the whole cast and the character-driven script, which, despite having a main character who is both gay and autistic, refused to allow any stereotypes to creep in.
Finally, I must praise Tic Ashfield’s sound design, which is unobtrusive yet emotionally stirring. It respects the dialogue’s importance and guides the audience, and is especially pivotal in heartfelt moments. Its intensity keeps the audience silent in the blackout, withholding the applause until it’s final beat. Blue is a family drama at its best, with a few Welsh references thrown in.
Blue is playing until 16 February. For more information and tickets, visit the Chapter Arts Centre website.