Who is the dependent: he whose legs have been physically blown off, or he who is mentally compelled to nick his legs with a knife over and over again? Blue on Blue, written by Chip Hardy (father of actor Tom Hardy) and directed by Harry Burton, is currently being staged at the Tristan Bates Theatre, and is an exploration of co-dependency and the parallels between mental and physical disabilities.

Emmett De Monterey has adopted a minimalistic set design for Blue on Blue. We’re presented with a drab modern-day living room: stained white walls, patent leather sofa and a Sports Direct clock hanging solo on the wall. The hatch window linking kitchen to lounge is authentic for this set-up and is a well-used set addition. In this space we find Moss (Darren Swift), an injured army veteran whose legs were blown off whilst in service. Moss is looked after by his nephew-cum-carer Carver (Daniel Gentely). However, the relationship between the pair is more complex than initial appearances suggest and, as the narrative progresses, we learn more about Carver’s mental disabilities and subsequent dependency on his uncle (formally his charge) for care and support.

In Pinteresque fashion, it’s the penetration of the family home by an outsider – in this case Marta (Ida Bonnast), the spritely Hungarian carer – who uproots the tense yet amicable relationship between uncle and nephew. Testosterone rages as both men sexualise Marta, chastising one another for their handicaps whilst referring to her derogatorily as “darling” or “sweetheart”; both see her only in relation to the men around her.  Carver’s sexual success with Marta becomes his detriment as Moss, riled up with jealousy, reacts by unravelling his nephew to expose his anxieties as well as his self-harmed legs, ultimately leading to Carver’s involuntary residence as a sectioned patient of a mental hospital in Act Two. Taunting then comforting Carver, Moss takes on the role of carer in a scene that bites the core of the duo’s co-dependent relationship.

Despite the underlying seriousness of the topic and surface-level belittling of women, the tone of Blue on Blue is darkly funny. Bonnast brings heaps of physical humour to the role of Marta as she bounds about the stage with gusto whilst tending to her duties. Her comic timing is perfect as she slowly bends to kiss Moss on the head whilst he, having slandered her sex moments earlier, grins mischievously at his nephew. Hardy hands the trio a witty script too, with wickedly funny lines. Moss’s description of Carver as “a failed burglar with special fucking needs” and of their living situation as a “disabled old soldier with a knife-wielding lunatic” received well-deserved laughs from the audience. Swift’s performance and general determination are heroic given he lost his own legs in a terrorist attack whilst serving for the British Army in Northern Ireland. Despite some of his lines seeming slightly premeditated, he gives a sterling performance in the role of Moss. Gentely also gives a genuine performance in the role of anxiety-ridden Carver; his manic hoovering, fretful hand-rubbing and expression of puzzled determination (particularly in Act Two) substantiate his character’s OCD.

Hardy’s Blue on Blue is a tightly written, fast-paced play, metaphorically illustrating the much wider issue of the treatment and perception of mental and physical disabilities.  The play’s core theme is most successfully realised in the final scene as Moss and Carver discuss their handicaps and how these, despite their vast differences, have left each of them crippled.

Blue on Blue is playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 14 May. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website. Photo: Gavin Watson