Taylor Swift’s ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ runs through this UK premiere of Mary Laws’ Blueberry Toast like a sickly lifeblood. It’s a fitting choice for this play: dark, polished, and not too subtle.
This is a taut and shiny production by the Soho Theatre and Platform Presents, yet it never quite manages to go further than Swift’s song, which from the beginning sets out Laws’ concern with women’s suffering at the hands of men (though here it’s the fragile politics of “domestic bliss” rather than A-list squabbles) and the possibility of drastic retribution. What you hear is what you get.
To be specific, what we’re looking at is what Walt (Gareth David-Lloyd) has made his wife Barb (Gala Gordon) do, and it’s more vicious than Swift dares to be, even in ‘Blank Space’. The sparkling, sitcom-bright kitchen with its heaped plate of blueberry toast – not pancakes, not waffles: toast – is site to some excellent gore. It’s signposted from so far away, however, that it’s never a real shock, and though director Steve Marmion certainly achieves an uneasy, often funny dread throughout, the only real change of tone comes with the play put on by the couple’s children (Adrianna Bertola and Matt Barkley) which they perform, act by act, to their parents, at the worst possible moments.
That song bubbles up through layers of Mic Pool’s sensitive sound design, bursting through in a remixed version to back the strongest moment: a sharply choreographed dance by the children. It’s just as well that we don’t hear the title lyric (look what you made me do, look what you made me do) as it’s barely needed, and least of all here. This is the most prophetic of their four acts, or perhaps it’s reflective; perhaps it’s simply enough that Barb seems to see something in it which steels her. Stuart Rogers’ movements for the two feel vital, the antidote to the sweet, artificial surroundings and delivery of the actors.
This, along with one monologue from Gordon explaining when, possibly, it might be appropriate to cut another person’s neck (“And a red wave pushes you up up…”) are points which feel different, unforeseeable. It’s here Blueberry Toast skirts closest to something impressive and truly inventive. The rest feels smoothly executed and amusing, but obvious. It skewers a heterosexual, suburban, mutually resentful dynamic we’ve seen skewered before. Walt is a bigot. Barb is trampled, demeaned, isolated. This bigotry and abuse should be depicted, and should make us uncomfortable, but there’s little to distinguish this uncomfortable depiction in particular.
By the time the play ends with one final, almost predestined act of violence, the few shocks hidden in Anthony Lamble’s pastel set have been long been loosed upon us, leaving us with the strangeness of the family’s quaint manner, the gore, the unnatural and airtight staging. Is this enough? Barb longs for poetry, like that by the middle-schoolers her husband teaches, for something he’s incapable of appreciating or even sensing anymore. It could be true to her, then, to ultimately want more than we’re given. It might be fitting that all the blood, like the song, never quite satisfies.
Blueberry Toast is on until 30 June 2018 at the Soho Theatre. Click here for more details.