Reviews Performance Published 3 November 2013

Blue

Pleasance Theatre ⋄ 25th - 29th October 2013

Puppetry and eulogy.

David Ralf

Touched Theatre’s Blue presents itself as a ‘part mystery and part elegy’, but structurally it is the latter, and becomes most of all an investigation into eulogy.

We are welcomed into a promenade of rehearsal and exhibition spaces in north London’s Pleasance Theatre by puppeteer-actor Zoe Hunter, playing a friend of the missing girl Sylv Dee – “Sylv to them, Dee to me” – in a Scottish brogue by turns inveigling and spiteful. This friend seems lost without Sylv. She has invited the audience for a little memorial, a remembrance of Sylv – are we supposed to know her? – but there are dust sheets on the furniture, and our host sighingly shows us Sylv’s abandoned Facebook page – “All of her is on here. It doesn’t go away”. And quickly it becomes apparent that this piece is about appropriation – about having something of the enigmatic Sylv to share, to use in the teller’s favour, to exploit, and to make sense of in a very subjective way.

Each of the three characters try to take little pieces of the absent Sylv for themselves – to invent a close friendship, influence or romance, respectively, than they in fact shared. Writer Beccy Smith’s play is all about Sylv on the surface, but we are learning more about these isolated lives left behind. The text struggles to make Sylv interesting enough to affect these people, but mundane enough to be that ‘any friend’, ‘any stranger’, ‘any girl’ that she stands for – ultimately it doesn’t find a satisfying position on the spectrum. But the production comes alive – suitably enough for the Suspense Festival – with little vignettes featuring blue-haired Sylv puppets, of various invention and size.

The three performers alternately collaborate to animate Sylv and fight over it. To move from watching a puppet painstakingly invested with life to it being snatched between hands like a mere doll has an urgency which really quickly reveals what the text is more slowly achieving – Sylv, in her absence, is being performed, self-servingly, by the characters. The performers are both in character and invisible puppeteers, and the puppet is both actor and prop, and the boundaries shift from gesture to gesture.

The vignettes themselves are wonderfully inventive, referencing motifs that move back and forth in the text, but aren’t allied to them so neatly as to frustrate. An early section has a foot-tall Sylv emerge from a life-size version of the clothes we know she was wearing the day she went missing – a bewitching Alice in Wonderland-inspired moment that completely sells both the performers’ skills but also the characters’ love of the person they are trying to give justice in their memory – at every turn the action expresses with ease the complexities being drawn out in difficult monologues.

The design of the production from Paul Burgess also makes a virtue of trying a huge variety of effects, and several are hugely successful, if they aren’t as focussed as the puppetry. Changes of space, moving walls, handheld lights, abstract spaces, very carefully costumed areas and projections of photos and films (supposedly Sylv’s) all serve the characters, and make the absent Sylv palpable. There are mini-Sylvs too, blue hair bristling, hidden around the space, ready to have attention drawn to them.

We are moved about, given little things to hold, look at, sat down, stood up, and even invited to do a little simple puppetry, and for all this we are given an end of sorts, an end which looks back on us flocking about as audience, about those who flocked around Sylv, darting in and out of influence and affection for security and adventure, and about a simple flock of birds Sylv snapped on her cameraphone. It doesn’t tie up neatly, but then, Blue really is an elegy, not a mystery.

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Blue Show Info


Produced by Touched Theatre

Directed by Darren East

Written by Beccy Smith

Link http://suspensefestival.com/

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