On entering the theatre via an unconventional route, I found myself confronted by a Nissan Bluebird impressively placed on a thrust stage. Despite the rather limited size of the venue, the design of the play made for an interesting use of the space. The choice of staging drew the audience in for a sometimes uncomfortably close viewing of the stories that unfolded before them. Unfortunately, from some seats in the auditorium this choice of staging meant that keys scenes in the second half were lost.
Save for a couple of blind spots the lighting was cleverly done and pleasingly subtle. The in-car lighting exaggerated the unexpected intimacy of the encounters that took place before us and created a warm bubble into which each character allowed their story to unfold. The grittiness of a projection was fitting for the atmosphere of the piece, depicting the streets of London flying past, oblivious to the characters getting in and out of Jimmy Macneill’s minicab. A strange choice of music accompanied the projections between scenes and perhaps became a little too repetitive as the show progressed. This did however add an appropriate sense of relief when the final song was eventually played. The scene changes felt a little clumsy at times, but there was also something quite pleasing about the nakedness of the set and transparency with which these changes where made.
For Jimmy, this car is his world; his home and livelihood, and the set helped to capture the stillness and sanctuary of the car against the strange, noisy and eclectic city that surrounded it.
Against this ambitious backdrop, there were six strong performances. The character of Jimmy Macneill is both wonderfully frank and worryingly isolated and Cem Aytacli’s controlled and understated performance allowed for Jimmy to take the front seat. Alanna Southgate brought an honesty to Clare Macneill that made for some poignant moments when confronted with her equally honest ex-husband. Complimenting this, the four multi-rolling parts were performed with ease and humour whilst retaining a strong sense of the darkness that surrounded them.
For a potentially difficult play to stage, mainly due to the limitations of the car, the energy for the most part was maintained and served to deliver a truly moving piece. Becky Catlin has brought a beautiful piece of writing to the New Theatre stage with precision and style, lifting the characters to the forefront of the production. Compelling and strangely beautiful, this production of Simon Stephens’ Bluebird made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening at the theatre.