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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre     Spring 2024

Bluets, adapted by Margaret Perry from the book by Maggie Nelson, is the opening production of the Royal Court’s new artistic director David Byrne, who claims that under his leadership the theatre will be 'treading the path of maximum adventure'.

Maggie Nelson’s reflective meditation on the colour blue, grief, the break-up of her relationship and the paralysis of a friend in an accident is narrated by the actors Emma D’Arcy, Kayla Meikle and Ben Whishaw, who occasionally speak different parts of a sentence.

They mostly stand by three small tables containing various blue objects. Behind each is a television screen, and above them hangs a huge screen dominating about two-thirds of the vertical space.

Cameras film their actions, which are then added to previously filmed locations such as a seafront, various parts of London and somewhere in the countryside. At times on the big screen, the actors can seem to be walking along a street, sitting in a tube train, driving a car or descending an escalator.

Accompanying the on-screen performance is an ominous musical score. Occasionally we hear a voiceover describe something. Among short video clips is one of John Kelly singing Joni Mitchell’s 'Blue'.

The approach has been described by the show’s director Katie Mitchell as live cinema.

The narrators speak about holding the hand of the paralysed friend, spending five hours lovemaking and buying a book on depression. We are told that 'we have not yet heard enough, if anything, about the female gaze.' There are references to Wittgenstein, Goethe and others who have contributed to her understanding of life and the colour blue.

The language has a lyrical rhythm that carries you along despite its lack of storyline and the distracting fragmentary nature of the presentation. A mood of sadness and isolation dominates the piece, though Nelson’s witty whimsical humour will occasionally raise its head and have the audience briefly laughing.

The actors are confidently effective at conveying the narrative and with the aid of the video director Grant Gee and some busy stage crew running on and off stage with objects, are able to time their actions to fit the screened images.

However, their complicated performance and the words of Maggie Nelson are not particularly helped by the ambitious live cinema additions of Katie Mitchell.

Keith McKenna

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Review of Bluets - Royal Court Theatre 2023

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