C Venues

Blue Heart

08/08/18

C Too, St Columba’s by the Castle, Edinburgh

The Bathway Theatre Company comprises students and recent alumni from the University of Greenwich, and they have certainly chosen a complex piece for their Edinburgh Fringe debut. Caryl Churchill’s 1997 Blue Heart consists of two one-act plays, and they are both extremely difficult. But these young performers seem undaunted, rising gamely to the challenge, proving that they are more than capable of delivering Churchill’s high concept work.

First up is Heart’s Desire, where a London-based family awaits a visit from their daughter, who has been living in Australia. They run through the same scene, again and again, some ideas repeated word for word, while others change or are replaced. It’s about wish-fulfilment, clearly, about divergent paths, and choices made. We think it’s also probably about the writing process, about the possibilities of a blank page, of editing and redrafting. Whatever, it must be hard work to perform, a nightmare to remember lines where the same cues act as prompts for different responses, but these actors make short work of it. Bethan Shaw is both funny and tragic as the girl’s mother, Alice, her timing impeccable, and Jason Kennedy (as Bryan) and Jess Buckley (Maisie) are also impressive, his obvious anxiety contrasting beautifully with her placid acceptance.

The second act is Blue Kettle, starring John Dawson as Derek, an adoptee apparently seeking his birth mother, convincing several women that he is their son. His aim, he says, is to defraud them, to claim their money – and they are more than willing to believe his story; they want it to be true. The title refers to the disintegration of language in this piece – the words ‘blue’ and ‘kettle’ are inserted into the dialogue with increasing frequency, at first replacing just occasional nouns, or verbs that rhyme with blue, but soon reducing whole conversations to repeated utterances of the same two words – yet still, somehow, we can discern the meaning, the essence of what’s being said. It’s as audacious an idea as we might expect from Churchill, and another mighty challenge for the performers. But again, this company proves its worth, earning our admiration for their control of the material. Blue Kettle is more of an ensemble piece than Heart’s Desire and the actors work skilfully together – even the detailed set change between the acts is perfectly choreographed, woven into the production, fascinating to observe.

Tucked away down a flight of stairs at the back of a church on Johnson Terrace, this might be hard to find. But it’s well worth seeking out this ambitious production – it really is a little gem.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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My Pet, My Love

24/08/17

C Royale, George Street, Edinburgh

Rob Gaetano’s My Pet, My Love is a little gem. It occupies that awkward space between performance and conversation, but with such ease that it feels natural and compelling. To be clear: there are actorly skills at work here; Gaetano employs physical theatre, mime and monologue to convey his story, and he does so with great precision and control. But he also creates an intimate atmosphere, and speaks to us as if there is no boundary between stalls and stage. It’s a winning approach, successfully drawing us into his world.

This is a piece about fear, and more specifically about the fear of ageing and forgetting. We learn about Gaetano’s first pet, a fish called Bluey, and about his Nonna and her dementia. We learn about his wish to make his family proud, and his concern that he can’t achieve this as a single, not-all-that-successful gay actor. (Not all that unsuccessful, though; he’s won plaudits from critics, as well as an award.) Mostly, we work with him to unlock a series of memories, key moments that – held on to – help to define just who he is.

I only have one criticism of this piece, and it’s minor. But when he plays Culture Club’s Karma Chameleon at full volume, it saturates the room and becomes unbearably evocative. If the aim here is to take me away from the play in front of me and lose me for a while in my own memories of being thirteen, then it works. But I’m definitely not focusing on Gaetano at that point, although, as soon as the music ends, I’m right back with him.

There are only a few days left of this year’s Fringe, but it’s definitely worth seeking out this piece for a satisfying denouement.

4 stars

Susan Singfield