The Theatreguide.London Review
On Blueberry Hill
Trafalgar Studios Spring 2020
Some clichés are valid
– the Irish really are great storytellers. Some of the finest
theatre writing from Ireland in recent decades has been as much
narrative as dramatic, in the form of single, shared or contrapuntal
contribution to the genre has two men
take turns telling us bits of their stories.
They do not speak to
each other or interact in any conventionally dramatic way, and it is
almost halfway through the hundred-minute play before we're sure they
inhabit the same space and time. And yet between them a story is told
and brought alive.
Their stories are in
fact related. Both, we
gradually learn, are convicted (and guilty) murderers serving life
terms. One committed his crime in a moment of impulse he still does
not understand, the other did his cold-bloodedly as revenge for the
Mortal enemies, they
were placed in the same cell by a
sadistic gaoler to kill each other, but the second half of Barry's
play is about how something else happened between them.
Culleton's subtle and sensitive direction the two actors each take
the opportunity to offer masterclasses in the creation of character
and reality out of nothing but words.
Niall Buggy makes the
(perhaps surprisingly) more passionate man relive all the extreme
emotions in his story as he describes them, from happiness through
grief, despair, rage and the even more difficult to portray
resignation and peace.
The younger man is both
slow of thought and
less in touch with his emotions, and David Ganly achieves the
seemingly impossible in showing us things about the man he himself
doesn't have the words for.
It is quite likely that
you will come
away from On Blueberry Hill with a stronger impression of the actors
than of the story they tell.
And you will also come
away filled with
the effortless poetry of Sebastian Barry's language, as he invests
the characters with an irrefutably Irish instinct for evocative
A beautiful woman 'was
walking in her own light' while
another person is 'as cold as your nose in winter' and a sociable
night out is described as 'swapping jokes until your gums bleed.'
The richness of the language, the subtlety of the performances and the warm and all-forgiving love of the play for its characters make for a life-affirming and wholly satisfying evening.
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