Blue Heart on National Tour

There are degrees of experimentation. On the one hand, experimentation can be refreshing, revitalising even; at the other end of the scale, it becomes meaningless pretense. Caryl Churchill s new work Blue Heart is experimentation at its best and worst.

Blue Heart is in fact two one-act plays. The first, Heart s Desire, portrays what is, at base, a very ordinary situation - a family waiting for their daughter s return home after many years abroad. But what seems straightforward is not. Churchill takes us into a zanily creative mind to prove the possibilities are indeed endless. Her characters rewind and fast-forward through a variety of situations including a lesbian backpacker, a drunken son as well as the surreal swarm of screaming children, a terrorist bloodbath and a giant ostrich.

The real treat though is seeing how the actors - Bernard Gallagher, Valerie Lilley and Mary Macleod - accomplish what must be an incredibly difficult technical piece. Churchill s script requires them to repeat endlessly the same scene - sometimes sped up, sometimes skipping whole chunks of words. The actors render the repeats flawlessly - the angle of an arched eyebrow, the flounce of a skirt, the pitch of an exasperated cry - time after time. It is as near-perfect as spooling through a videotape, with the benefit that the ending keeps changing so you didn t get too bored.

Churchill s second play, Blue Kettle, could have benefitted from a change of ending. It s a more serious piece with a lot more in the way of a story. Forty-something Derek (Jason Watkins) collects mothers like baseball cards, claiming to be the son they gave up to adoption decades earlier. We catch glimpses of his uneasy relationships with several old women, including his actual, infirm mother, while his girlfriend Enid (Jacqueline Defferary) looks on in horror. Is Derek trying to con the women out of money or is he searching for the maternal love which his own mother is too sick to provide? Who knows.

Rather than let scenes unfold in the hands of a capable cast, Churchill opts for a complex wordplay. At first, you think you re just hearing things when the words ‘blue and ‘kettle start to pop into the dialogue. As their usage increases, you search desperately for some pattern. By the final scenes, you realise there is none as all speech becomes just a mixed bag of ‘blue kettle syllables and letters. A meaningless barrage. Was that the point, I wonder. Is Churchill trying to make a statement on the arbitrary nature and, ultimately, meaninglessness of language? Or was it something loftier that I, and everyone around me, just didn t get? Either way, who really cares? It still seemed an idiotic and, by the end, just plain irritating way of making a point. A shame too to ruin what could have been a very powerful story and an effective double-header.

Terri Paddock, September 1997