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 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 monologues.

Sebastian Barry's 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 first.

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.

Under Jim 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 older but (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 imagery.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  On Blueberry Hill - Trafalgar Studios 2020
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