Venue: Drama Barn
Who would write a play set entirely in or in the close vicinity of a car? The answer: Simon Stephens. Bluebird is Stephens' first play and, as the title suggests, the centre piece of the story is a Nissan Bluebird. Sourcing a car, let alone getting one in the Drama Barn, is no mean feat, so we can forgive the production team for using a VW Golf instead. My pedantry aside, this weekend's drama barn show was a bleak portrayal of metropolitan life in Britain's capital. The play follows Jimmy, a mini cab driver, on the course of one night as he picks up a variety of customers, or as we are repeatedly told "fares". Each fare has their own individual story to tell; from Robert (James Duckworth) whose daughter was stabbed to death, to Richard (Alexander Wright) who is disillusioned as life as an engineer on London's underground.
In director Joe Hufton's first barn production, the quality of acting of the entire ensemble was first class. As well as showcasing some of the society's older members, who were undoubtedly making their final barn performances, Bluebird featured some fantastic barn premieres. David Coupland as Billy Lee and Chi-San Howard as Angela both epitomised the self-destruction so rife in Stephens' text. Ed Duncan Smith as the cabby gave a strong performance who was not only "despairingly honest", but dangerously curious, delving into the lives of his customers and absorbing their jokes, questions and philosophies. Danie Linsell as the distraught, fragile teacher Janine was outstanding, subtly revealing the complexities and brutality of Stephens' characters.
Sometimes, however, it seemed that the cast, and indeed the audience, gave way to the comic potential of the characters, rather than focusing on and drawing out their bleak desolation and self-destruction. This gave the climax of the play, the confrontation between Jimmy and estranged wife Clare (played brilliantly by Rachel Finnegan), less strength. A greater investment in the tragedy and bleakness of events prior to this would have made the audience invest more in Jimmy and Clare's own tragic loss. Written in 1998, the script certainly suffers from its age. However, the sterling talent of the cast and production team did credit to a play with a bizarre sense of beauty and clarity whilst also brilliantly showing Stephens' constant battle between pessimism and that tiny fragment of hope.