‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ – Tolstoy
Elin, visiting her Carmarthen family from her new life in London, meets Thomas, her old teacher, and there’s a spark between them. Bringing him back to the family home, her intent more carnal than romantic, she expects an empty house. Instead they are almost caught by her mother, Lisa.
(Nia Roberts as Lisa)
Surprised, Thomas blurts out that he was invited back for a meal, much to the daughter’s dismay and her mother’s delight, because Lisa has been looking for a boyfriend for her gay son Huw, and, mistaking Elin’s intentions, she thinks she’s found one.
(Huw, Lisa and Elin)
So begins an evening of misunderstandings, comedy and revelations. The shy Huw blooms, as does the play, from what seems like an Ayckbourn farce into something progressively darker, as old wounds are re-opened and the absent, oft mentioned father casts a pall over everything like the ghost in Hamlet.
(Sophie Melville as Elin and Jordan Bernarde as Thomas)
What could have been stereotypes – slutty daughter, gay son, lecherous teacher and dragon mother – are, in the hands of these actors, fleshed out into real people. Helped by impressive writing and the subtle direction of Chelsey Gilard. My favourite moment being during the dinner scene, when Huw talks to Thomas, while under the table Elin caresses the teachers thigh possessively.
Writer Rhys Warrington trained as an actor, and perhaps this is why he knows to leave room for the cast to breathe life into their roles. His script is funny, engaging and sad.
Maybe it was first night nerves, the script, or the directors intent, but there was a rawness, echoing the characters on show, a feeling of slightly rough edges that need filing. Whatever the reason, I found that it enhanced the play.
Sophie Melville gives the lippy Elin the right mix of being grown up yet still lacking maturity, and relishes her lines. In response to her mother’s “Know what we need now?” she replies waspisly “Another drink?”.
Jordan Bernarde gives the fought-over Thomas a steadiness, but hints at unshed grief over his own father’s recent death.
Playing the shy, withdrawn Huw is not easy, and it’s to Gwydion Rhys’ credit that he makes him so human, moving from boring to vulnerable and evoking our sympathy.
Nia Roberts is an actor that loves getting her teeth into a part, and here she takes the role and runs with it. Switching from monster to Mam in a second, she gives us a Lisa that is heartbroken and angry, living in past memories because the present is too painful.
There is a lot to admire in Blue, much of it familiar, especially to Welsh audiences. Rebecca Hammond founded Chippy Lane Productions to promote Welsh theatre and talent beyond Wales, and this is a prime example of it. There’s even a faint trace here of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, possibly due to the presence of Matthew Bulgo as dramaturg, a cast member in the celebrated Sherman Theatre production.
Blue isn’t completely perfect and I’m glad for that, because It means that this is a writer with space to grow, to improve. That is a very pleasing prospect for the future of Welsh drama.