EFR - Reviews of Bluebird

Bluebird

Mon 22nd – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Tanjil Rashid

at 11:32 on 23rd Aug 2011

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Is there a more faceless figure of urban life than the taxi driver? They generally get a rough deal. In Will Self’s The Book of Dave a London cabbie is the epitome of idiocy, choosing the ramblings of a taxi driver to service his satire on religion, while the most famous portrayal of a taxi driver, Robert de Niro’s in Martin Scorsese’s classic Taxi Driver, is a man completely unhinged, to say the least.

Simon Stephens’s Bluebird, however, presents an altogether different story, the taxi driver as a wellspring of humanity; kindly engaging and entertaining his ‘fares’ – a mother mourning the murder of her daughter, say, or a bouncer – all the while probing the city’s sewers and the lives that fester down below. The script is subtle. No speeching, no declamation, only the heartfelt compassion and comedy of everyday of life, a theatrically pointillist approach that comes together to create the colour of the city.

Our taxi driver, Garry Jenkins’s understated Jimmy, is an ex-writer who, after a personal tragedy, deserts his family and moves into a taxi; there he has lived an anonymous existence bearing witness to tragedies equal to his own for five years, until he is riven by a desire to seek out his estranged wife. Their final, climactic meeting is one of a palpable poignancy which only rarely have I seen pulled off without descending into the saccharine and the soap.

It takes a director as talented as Andrew Whyment to do so. The fast-motion sequences depicting scenes from the city – the nightclub, the coffeeshop, the cheap hotel – show up all the city’s seediness, against which all the while stands Jimmy, brimming with humanity. Of course, in case Jimmy sounds too good to make for good drama, rest assured he has done something horrific. The Church Fathers retreated into the desert to repent; is Jimmy modernity’s equivalent to the John Chrystostoms of yore, retreating into the heart of the city? Jimmy’s wandering existence is so evocatively caught in designer Helen Coyston’s marvellous mise-en-scène; a dismantled taxi cab, stripped bare and transparent, at stage centre, on which, throne-like, sits the king of cabbies, Jimmy. A fare you won't regret paying.

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Dominic Sowa

at 11:47 on 23rd Aug 2011

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Although the revival takes place 13 years after the original production of Simon Stephen’s Bluebird at the Royal Court, the piece feels as contemporary as the ensemble, SQUINT, like to call themselves. The play is constructed around the attempt by Jimmy, played by Garry Jenkins, a Mancunian writer turned taxi driver, to reconnect with his estranged wife Clare played by Juliet Turner. Taking place in just one night, the play’s main storyline is pieced in-between a smörgåsbord of intriguing London nightlife characters.

This production is a high energy high octane take on a theatrical modern classic. For although it is difficult to see the play itself as particularly light and cheery, SQUINT’s Bluebird is as dark and paranoid a vision of London at night as many a mind can imagine. The highly theatrical and well constructed scene changes set the atmosphere of the piece. With highly dramatic light movements reminiscent of ITV blockbuster talent shows and well constructed and eerie sound cues, the play can make you scared to leave the theatre afterwards.

The play feels like a taxi drivers confessions show and in effect it is structurally based upon a small number of interconnected confessions that help to build the bigger picture of Jimmy’s life and the secret he keep from the audience. However it is far deeper than a simple confession and is in fact a powerful exploration and humanisation of the often shunned elements of London’s nightlife. Those whose working pattern is night time not day light hours, those who find solace in the darkness and those who are only able to see their own issues thanks to the blindness of dark.

The actual performance of the play, though engaging lacked certain finesse. Garry Jenkins’s performance often felt forced and hollow. You could ask how is a conversation between taxi driver and “fare”, as they are called, be deep and emotional. However it must be noted that no matter how shallow the conversations were directed to be, there just felt like there was very little happening inside the character. The relationship between him and Juliet turner’s character also lacked certain believability. The actors just seemed distant although Juliet Turner had many moments of pure powerful emotion. Seda Yildiz as Janine gave a tender performance. Rachel Chambers gave some depth and fragility to her role as a London prostitute.

Although the play was visually spectacular with well pieced together and highly professional ensemble moments that gave a very strong sense of the hustle and bustle of London at night, this left the play with very little dramatic build up. Following all the high energy elements, the true drama of the play, which is the reconciliation of the character of Jimmy with his wife felt flat and un-stimulating. Although the play was enjoyable and definitely exciting, I didn’t leave the theatre with any other feeling then a slight paranoia of the shadows on my walk home.

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