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Bluets | Royal Court Theatre

An entirely unique and ambitious attempt to synthesise live theatre and cinema, Bluets may be an impressive feat, yet this exercise in technical boundary pushing leaves the text devoid of any emotion nor accessible meaning.

It feels questionable to even call Bluets theatre. In its programme, director Katie Mitchell describes the project as 'live cinema', something which feels accurate, yet remains hard to describe. What is certain, however, is that Bluets is anything but normal: three actors stand at the front of the stage behind three cameras, microphones, prop desks, and in front of a screen each. What proceeds is a remarkable display of co-ordination and precision as the three actors supported by a phenomenal tech crew create an 80 minute film, shown live to a screen over head, while barely moving from their upstage positions - locations are cleverly shown on screens behind them, and the prop desks are used to remarkable effect to create close-up shots of laptops, drinks and sleeping in beds. The reason it feels troubling to call this theatre, is that it is never played to the audience - or at least directly to the audience.

With the entire intention being the creation of a film, the production sacrifices any sense of staging in the attempt to make it look perfect only in camera (which for the most part it achieves fantastically), and as one settles into this highly experimental format, it does become a massively admirable occasion to admire. Unfortunately, the 'film' itself is hardly as impressive as the skill and process witnessed in making it. An already abstract, metaphorical, and emotionally distant text, the choice to translate Maggie Nelson's Bluets to stage in this way places even further barriers in accessing any empathetic resonance, and sadly fails to service the text in a meaningful way that amplifies and emboldens its discussions of addiction, obsession, loss and isolation.

The concept of Bluets is certainly an intriguing one: initially focusing on an unnamed character who has an obsession with the colour blue in all its forms, the narrative follows their rather unremarkable blue tainted life, documenting friendship, loyalty and feelings of loneliness. It's a piece that feels like it ought to be poignant - and at times it is - yet with the protagonist being unnamed, largely unidentifiable (D'Arcy, Meikle and Whishaw all play the same role, giving the character a fluid and abstract lack of singular personality) the production struggles to find an emotional core amid its myriad of symbolism and vague metaphor. There's something enticing about the dream-like abstractness of the piece, the characters all wearing blue, fragmented sentences leaping from one actor to the other and blue tinted film lenses all lending a hypnotising quality to the piece, yet in conjunction with the already confusing adaptation by Margaret Perry, the play takes it a step to far towards what one could imagine being a parody of pretentious student cinema.

Unfortunately, the convoluted 'live cinema' medium does few favours for the cast either. Ben Whishaw lends his wonderfully distinct and soothing voice to the voiceover sections with great skill, yet the piece is hardly one that demands much acting. With all three actors sharing the same role, cutting between them every few seconds, no singular actor is given the chance to truly perform a scene: this is more of a display of coordination and multi-tasking rather than a compelling acting performance. The same can be said of Kayla Meikle, who equally narrates wonderfully, yet somewhat fails to sell that she is ever in the location shown behind her. Emma D'Arcy steals the show here, showing the most precision and control out of the three and perfectly balancing a chaotic physical performance with excellent voiceover, yet again is never truly given a chance to shine. Rare moments get laughs from the audience, yet in these moments one is left wishing that the piece elicited more emotion as a whole. While not performing, the stage managers ought to be praised also, nimbly presenting props to the actors while never interrupting scenes, and making what appears to be a daunting project of communication and teamwork seem effortless.

Bluets is certainly a fascinating watch, yet its intrigue comes solely from the process of its creation: one can admire the sheer ingenuity of stagecraft that occurs in the Royal Court Theatre every night, yet whether the end product - the film broadcast on stage - is of any quality is a different question. With perhaps one too many abstract concepts, a disjointed approach to character, and a text that feels emotionally hollow, this experiment in 'live cinema' seems to forget to make a compelling final piece of art in its convoluted path to creation.

Bluets is running at the Royal Court Theatre until 29th June. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3*)

Gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Camilla Greenwell


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