Reflecting on a family unraveled but trying to hold it, and themselves, together. A slow burn piece of work. Emily Garside reviews Blue:

Created by Rebecca Hammond and written by Rhys Warrington, Blue is a well-crafted set of performances that grapple with some big issues. It’s impeccably put together, but ultimately the issues seem to range beyond both the characters and the writing.

Nia Roberts, Sophie Melville, Jordan Bernarde & Gwydion Rhys (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

Chelsey Gillard’s direction offers a measured and detail-oriented approach to the story. Embracing the measured pace of the writing rather than fighting against it, Gillard allows each scene to unfold, acquainting the audience with the characters and so letting them unravel gradually, almost imperceptibly. It’s an act of patience and trust in the audience, the writing and her own direction that pays off.

The performances are perhaps most notable in the dinner party scene, from the way wine is poured to the characters’ posture at the table and the interactions with each other. In these moments the quarter comes together and the level of development, both in Warrington’s writing and in Gillard’s direction, is apparent.

Blue Chapter Arts Centre

Sophie Melville & Jordan Bernarde (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

Such attentive directing is equally supported by the design team. Oliver Harmen’s time-capsule living room, while seeming stuffy and dated, also has a timeless feel, frozen in a moment that perfectly matches the script. The lighting design from Ceri James evokes the changing mood of Blue. The closing moments use light particularly evocatively and poignantly to sculpt the final image, while Tic Ashford’s sound design subtly underscores the entire production.

Blue Chapter Arts Centre

Gwydion Rhys, Nia Roberts & Sophie Melville (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

The cast embrace the challenge of unraveling this complex family drama, with Sophie Melville and Gwydion Rhys subtly encapsulating a difficult yet loving brother-sister relationship throughout the play. Melville gives an effervescent performance, full of spark that bounces off Nia Roberts as her mother and offers insight into the unspoken tensions within the family. Rhys meanwhile offers an understated contrast as the quiet son who would rather be playing Minecraft. While a few elements of both characters might seem cliché, each actor finds emotional depth within both their relationships and themselves.

Roberts meanwhile wears her heart on her sleeve without revealing too much too quickly about Lisa, the wife and mother just about hanging on by a thread. And into all this is thrown Jordan Bernarde as Thomas. For much of the play he offers some comic relief, a dry wit and bemused witness to this strange family dinner. But Thomas has more to his character, and Bernarde delivers these facets with quiet sensitivity.

Blue Chapter Arts Centre

Jordan Bernarde & Nia Roberts (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

All the issues and problems the family face are dealt with considerately by Warrington’s writing, but ultimately it feels as if he is as overwhelmed by them as his characters are. It’s admirable to try and address such complexities, but there isn’t enough time in Blue to resolve, or in some cases even air, many of the plot strands. This slow burn only works to a point – too much is left hanging to feel satisfactory. Blue tries to say too much in a single piece of writing, when in fact the central story line of the missing father and the truth of his absence is suitably devastating on its own.

Blue Chapter Arts Centre

Nia Roberts, Sophie Melville & Jordan Bernarde (image courtesy of Kirsten McTernan)

Blue is a slow, reflective piece of work, with both characters and story deployed in pieces. Both the writing and the performances command attention from the off. There is much to be praised in asking an audience to sit with a story and allowing them the opportunity to feel it as much as see it unfold. Both Warrington and Gillard have pulled this together admirably.

Blue played at Chapter Arts Centre until 16 February 2019. For more information, please visit the company website.