On Blueberry Hill at Trafalgar Studios
There is a bittersweet taste at the end of On Blueberry Hill. It is the flavour of a masterpiece to be munched over a while after the curtain call. With many layers involved, it is still a smooth production that passes like a fleeting single act.
Sebastian Barry’s new play covers guilt, anger and mercy through the lives of two prison inmates. PJ (David Ganly) and Christy (Niall Buggy) share the same cell, because of some unforgivable crimes that will be unveiled slowly. Luck or a mocking destiny has brought these two men, whose pathways were irreconcilable and whose family history made them natural enemies, to spend twenty years of their conviction in a narrow cubicle together. In alternating monologues, the characters rapidly move from the On Blueberry Hill music broadcast on the radio to the past events that determined their current situation. The link is revealed halfway through the play.
The flow and beauty of the language is the play’s most striking feature. The script is not simply well written, it punches and caresses at the right points. The text touches poetry without overdramatising the characters’ statements. Although the running time could have been reduced to some degree, the lack of interval is appropriate in order not to break the momentum. The tension gradually rises, albeit with possibly too many idle moments at the beginning, and the play finally grips in a balanced crescendo. The stories of the two men progress at different paces, and that’s how the threading of their lives thrives.
Buggy and Ganly are two giants of the performance space: the former more controlled and almost whimsical in his jokes, the latter vehement and animated. They connect and crash quietly, transporting the audience to different locations initially, and then communicating the confined feeling of the cage they are obliged to stay in.
The set design is free of any props, except a bunk bed and its ladder. The backdrop is constituted by a surrounding wall of pages, yellowish, old, hanging like fading fragments of memory. It is an ethereal context, where words are king.
Heartfelt and absorbing, On Blueberry Hill digs deep into human character and pokes at our comfort.
Photo: Patrick Redmond
On Blueberry Hill is at Trafalgar Studios from 11th March until 2nd May 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.