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On Blueberry Hill
Trafalgar Studios London
IT’S a sad thing that playwright Brian Friel is no longer with us, nor indeed other giants of Irish theatre such as Sean O’Casey, JM Synge and Samuel Beckett.
But before we despair that we’ll never see new work from those colossal writers, we should remind ourselves that we do have Sebastian Barry. Currently Laureate for Irish Fiction, if there’s any justice in the world, the title should come with a medal as big as a frying pan.
His new play On Blueberry Hill, his first in a decade, uses language in the most exquisite way. Lexically intricate, it has glorious gems of phrases — a man “lets out a roar that wouldn’t shame a donkey,” a woman “went to the pin of her collar” and there is “frost that gnaws at your gloves.”
The febrile mix of emotions he creates between two people who have connections they neither invited nor welcomed, is masterly. His two-man piece relies entirely on monologues and the 90-minute script, directed by Jim Culleton. It is a treasure trove of poetry and wit.
And it's delivered by two of the finest Irish actors of our time. Niall Buggy brings to Christy a sweet melancholy and charm that can break your heart and mend it again, while David Ganly, as PJ, displays a yearning for the life he couldn’t have. There is joy in simply looking at the side of his beloved’s face, yet we know this could only ever be from a distance.
The plot, in which one dreadful act of momentary madness is followed by another of deliberate vengeance, demands a suspension of disbelief. But what matters is the intimacy between the two men, the creation of something outside themselves.
Confined together in dire circumstances, proximity starts to chip away at the carapace each wears.
The bond which develops may not bring absolution, even after their harrowing confessions, but it will ensure that they are not alone, nor lonely.
There is a happy ending, of sorts, and it brings to mind the memory of a journalist colleague going to interview former Beirut hostages John McCarthy and Brian Keenan.
Spotting them across the pub he hesitated, feeling he would encroach on the two. Deep in conversation, eyes meeting eyes, he said that they looked like a couple in love.
The production's run is suspended due to the coronavirus, but it’s an absolute must-see when it eventually resurfaces.
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