Bluets (Royal Court) – Reviews Roundup 3.1★

Royal Court- Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Ben Whishaw in Bluets at Royal Court theatre. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

In her book, Maggie Nelson writes numerous short pieces that explore pleasure, pain, and her love of the colour blue. In Margaret Perry’s stage adaptation, three actors create small moments for ‘live cinema’ as the director Katie Mitchell calls it. The drama might have been marginalised as an art installation, except the actors in question are Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, and this is the first production at the Royal Court under its new artistic director David Byrne.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (4★) was the most enthusiastic reviewer: ‘Both in live action and screen picture, the actors have a sense of intent purpose. However complex the technical demands made of them, they give a performance that is utterly unified and entirely believable.’ She summed up, ‘it is stylish, and full of wonder, a compelling portrait of sadness that somehow finds its way to acceptance and even hope.’ Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (4★) was also impressed, ‘Incisively adapted for the stage by Margaret Perry, the elusive text feels like an ideal match for director Katie Mitchell’s signature cinematic style, which blends performance, live video and pre-recorded footage to extraordinary effect.’ He concluded, ‘it’s a challenging, yet deeply rewarding watch, suffused with wistful beauty.’

Like many of the reviewers, Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph (3★) seemed more impressed by the way it was done than the effect: ‘As a technical feat, it’s impressive: how do Whishaw, along with Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, each focused yet frenetic amid an obscuring array of equipment, get so much done, without slipping up?’ Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (3★) was of a similar mind: ‘As ever with Mitchell, the text is interesting, but the real action lies in admiring her virtuosic staging – the cast are good, but they’re skilled cogs in Mitchell’s prodigious machine.’ The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) thought it was ‘cool and accomplished. More intriguing than disturbing.’

Arifa Akbar of The Guardian (3★) was stirred but not shaken: ‘there is still a sense of morsels of thought being offered which never metabolise into anything bigger…Ultimately, it is an odd night at the theatre, but not an uninteresting one.’ She said of the actors, ‘D’Arcy, Meikle and Whishaw perform with smooth, speedy synchronicity.’ Fiona Mountford at i-news (3★) thought the same but was more blunt, ‘It’s all very technically impressive, of course, but quite what this incessant faffing about adds to the text itself is another question entirely. My overriding feeling at the end of the 80 minutes was that Bluets is not a quarter as profound as Mitchell thinks it is.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★) said, ‘I’m so glad I saw Bluets. Without more story to sustain its 80 minutes, though, I was also so glad when it ended.

Aliya Al-Hassan at LondonTheatre (3★) felt ‘the overall look and feel is often more art installation than theatrical performance’  but ‘the cast work incredibly well together, moving deftly as they convey the stream of consciousness‘. Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) thought ‘Perry’s adaptation…keeps many of its most beautiful lines, and having the added textures of the film…creates…a theatrical piece unlike much else in London at the moment.’ He concluded with a backhanded compliment, ‘it’s a slog, even at 80 minutes. But my goodness it’s a beautiful slog.’

Not so beautiful for The Times’ Clive Davis (2★), who was having none of it: ’80 minutes begins to feel like eight hours. Whishaw and his colleagues are reduced to the level of well-drilled marionettes’.

Average critics’ rating 3.1★

Bluets can be seen at the Royal CourtTheatre until 29 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from royalcourttheatre.com

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s 5 star review of Bluets
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