Thursday, 10 January 2019

REVIEW: Bluebird - The Garrick Theatre, Stockport

The Stockport Garrick theatre utilised its bar area as the Garrick Studio for their production of Simon Stephens' Bluebird, which centres around Jimmy, a taxi driver, and the diverse conversation – or lack of – he engages in throughout the time he spends with his ‘fares’. As the play goes on, we start to learn more about Jimmy and his personal life.

The production was based in the round and I can see that this enabled the audience to assume several different perspectives on the dialogue, physically and thoughtfully. However, when the action is limited to the taxi setting, whereby little movement is allowed, I felt I missed a lot of the minutiae that came in the passengers’ storytelling. When characters faced my side of the audience, such as Richard and Janine played by Robin Sheehan and Annie Martin, my attention was locked into the mixture of emotions they were conveying through their eyes, facial expressions and vocal performance. Sheehan and Martin were gripping and I’m sure, had I been able to engage with every performer to the same extent, I would have felt the same towards them.

The cast was large for such an intimate and small space; using an actor per role heightened the idea that each new passenger is an individual and is, at most, a passing moment. This was emphasised by smaller roles such as Girl (Claire Douglas), Woman (Beki Smith) and Man (Joseph Williams). I especially enjoyed the withdrawn simplicity of Douglas’s performance, which gave no detail or context to her journey with Jimmy, but expressed the youthful discomfort of travelling in the back of a stranger’s car.

Jonathan Higgs’ Jimmy was our constant throughout the play and maintained a subservient presence for his ‘fares’, until his late-night drive with separated wife Clare MacNeill, played by Lisa Dennis, where he regurgitated all that he’d learnt from his fares that night. This contrast in which Jimmy goes from listener to active participant was not dramatic enough to create a big change in the overall tone of the production; the curiosity I felt towards Jimmy’s true nature wasn’t fully satisfied, despite the exploitation of the couple’s history. The production maintained a peacefulness which adhered to the quietness you can experience in late night car drives but this dampened any tension the play attempted to build or release.

As I caught the production on the first night, there were some moments of technical lagging which I’m sure would tighten up as the run continued. Sandy McGregor’s lighting was effective in creating changing moments of shadow and exposure as the actors rotated about the table/taxi environment, however I found the repeated motif played between passengers too harsh and disruptive of the tone the actors worked hard to produce. Tom Ferguson’s poster with its simple, clear style expresses the play and production very well.

The Garrick’s production of Bluebird didn’t engage so much with London 1998, but it conveyed the familiar sensation of sharing a small, enclosed space with a stranger and the fascinating truths it permits us to share.

Reviewer - Jessica Wiehler
on - 8/1/19

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