Review: Bluebird

4 star rating
Emotionally gripping performances make for absorbing drama in Adam Hemming's deftly-executed and skilful production, but Simon Stephen's story leaves unsettling loose ends.
Bluebird at The Space

Image: The Space


Theatre: The Space

Closes here: Saturday 4 August 2018

Author:
Simon Stephens

Director:
Adam Hemming

Cast:

Jimmy Macneill - Jonathan Keane

Guvnor / Billy Lee - Geofferson Rainsford

Robert Greenwood - Mike Duran

Angela Davies - Felicity Walsh

Clare Macneill - Anna Doolan

Richard Wright - Adam Pringle

Andy Green - Nathan Hughes

Janine Williams - Kathryn O'Reilly


Synopsis


I mean, what does it all mean? Eh?


Do you have any idea what it all means? At all?


That's four pounds seventy.


A man, in a Hawaiian shirt, sucking Special Brew through a straw.


A prostitute of indistinguishable age.


A bouncer in black jacket and dicky bow.


Taxi driver Jimmy Macneill has met them all.


But despite spending his nights listening to confessions, fantasies, even the odd flirt, there is something he can't speak of to anyone.


Except his ex-wife.


If only she would answer the phone.


Background


Off West End Award Nominated Space Productions present 'Bluebird', the 1998 breakthrough show from Olivier award winning playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime, National Theatre).


Directed by the Space's Artistic Director, Adam Hemming this haunting modern classic is the Space's season highlight; a celebration of forgiveness and a love letter to London on a summer night.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 25 July 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Real life can often throw-up stories far stranger than fiction, as a random glance through news reports of court cases will readily confirm.


But even mind-bogglingly strange, real-life cases need to have some kind of logic to them with a train of events that fit together, ending-up with a complete and believably convincing narrative.


The story underlying Simon Stephens' play Bluebird is not, as far as I know, based on real events, even if it certainly feels unnervingly realistic with an undoubted ring of truth.


The denouement, though, leaves many questions unanswered about the tragic event that lies at the heart of the drama and that lack of completeness gnaws away at our perception of whether the story is believable.


And, for some, the plot might just be too extreme to be convincing.


Jimmy is a mini-cab driver.


In his daily travels around the capital in his Nissan Bluebird (which gives the play its title) he meets, as one might expect, an odd assortment of characters - among them drunks, prostitutes and tube engineers.


Jonthan Keane's Jimmy converses easily with his "fares", sometimes provoking and challenging them with his questions.


But he also listens to their intriguing stories which seem to provide him with a kind of catharsis which builds over time until he can face his demons and extreme guilt, and once again meet the wife he hasn't seen for 5 years.


It's only in the final scene where Jimmy's story is revealed, but the exposition lacks sufficient detail to convince us of the possibility of its reality.


Adam Hemming's deftly-executed and skilful production relies on the sparsest of props to create the atmosphere in Jimmy's cab where most of the action takes place.


Rear red and orange lamps, a detached fender and a lone steering wheel are ample for a play that is relatively static and lacks very much in the way of dynamic action.


Jacked-up on rostra, with the audience sitting in close proximity to the characters, the proceedings have an intimate feel, as though we're almost sitting in the back of Jimmy's cab too.


I can't reveal the essential details which emerge in the final scene since to do so would almost entirely spoil the revelations should you venture out to see it.


And you should do on two counts.


First, it's an early play (first aired in 1998 at the Royal Court Theatre) by a highly-regarded and successful English playwright.


And second, it has some neat opportunities for characterisation that neither director nor cast fail to capitalise on here.


There are emotionally gripping and authentic performances from the entire cast, and those make for absorbing drama in spite of any deficiencies in the story detail.

Bluebird

Anna Doolan (Clare) and Jonathan Keane (Jimmy)


In particular, Jonathan Keane as Jimmy and Anna Doolan as Clare deliver immensely moving performances in the final scene, and Mr Keane also provides excellent support for his 'fares' when telling their stories.


Drama doesn't always need to neatly wrap-up every element of its plot to remove all loose ends, but there are enough evident here to leave a feeling of disquiet about the consequences of the tragic event the play describes.


Even so, Simon Stephens offers a window on the often bizarre and extreme ways that people deal with guilt, and how time and interaction with other human beings can help people find some kind of redemption even in the most brutally tragic of circumstances.


In spite of loose ends, Bluebird is nonetheless a compelling story, powerfully told in this production and with enough interesting characters to be completely absorbing.



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