REVIEW: Bluebird (The Space) ★★

This revival of an early work from Olivier Award winning playwright Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time), Bluebird captures a single night in the life of troubled minicab driver Jimmy (Jonathan Keane) as he navigates the streets of London in his Nissan Bluebird.

The first act sees Jimmy pick up and interact with a scattergun of London characters including, a drunk cod-philosopher (Geofferson Rainsford), a grieving father (Mike Duran), a young prostitute (Felicity Walsh), a Scottish engineer working on the Tube (Adam Pringle), and an angry bouncer (Nathan Hughes), a racist with a broken wrist (Rainsford) and a depressed teacher (Kathryn O’Reilly). All the time Jimmy is trying to make contact with his estranged wife Clare (Anna Doolan), who he hasn’t seen for five years.

The second act sees Jimmy meet up with Clare and more of their back story is revealed. They explore their shared grief and Clare confronts Jimmy over his abandonment five years earlier. Jimmy confesses to his past and the emotion of guilt, grief and anger threatens to overwhelm them both.

There is much to be admired in Stephens’ writing, even if overall the structure of the play doesn’t quite work and the jokes don’t quite land well enough. There are sharp observations about life, about people, and about London which are clever and enjoyable. For example, the tube engineer observes wryly that the two things Londoners have in common is that they come from somewhere else and want to leave; but the best writing is saved for the emotionally charged confrontation in the second half.

Adam Hemming’s direction and the design doesn’t really help either, slowing the pace to a crawl, and moving Jimmy’s ‘car’ around a criss-crossed stage so that the audience sees each scene from a different angle. An unnecessary interval also slowed things down, but in truth this was mainly to protect the audience from suffering in the real heatwave London is experiencing. London is clearly an important character in the story and yet is completely unseen in the off-stage darkness.

Despite these problems the leads do well, Keane makes Jimmy dead-pan and sarcastic, a way of covering up the overwhelming emotions he has buried beneath the surface and Doolan handles the grief and anger Clare feels well enough. The rest of the ensemble delivers their short bursts of activity well, letting us know that each of them has another story in which they are the central character as Jimmy acts as their confessor.

Overall the play has a few too many shortcomings and the execution of this production is not quite sharp enough but it does work as a vehicle for a talented ensemble.

Reviewed by Kris Witherington


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