views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Bluebird
Tabard Theatre
12th May 2015

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Bluebird

Photography © Andreas Grieger

Want to know what a bouncer, a prostitute and an ex-teacher all have in common? Why, their cab driver of course! Written by Simon Stephens (yes, the scribe behind The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adaptation as the posters proudly tell us), Bluebird follows a night in the life of taxi driver Jimmy Macneill (Malcolm Freeman) as he ferries his customers around the moonlit streets of London and listens with interest as they tell him about murder, heartbreak, and the Underground. But piece by piece, we discover that Jimmy has a story of his own to rival any of those he's been told.

Given the main action occurs within the confines of the lead character's minicab, there is little in the way of props here. Jimmy's car is right bang in the middle of the stage, represented by two rows of seats (and a lot of rubbish - damn it, he's a cabbie, Jim, not a cleaner). The black floor has been transformed into a stylised map of London, showing various locations - Waterloo Bridge, Pentonville Prison, King's Cross Station - places that spring from the stories of the characters. Similarly, the backdrop shows a road disappearing into the London skyline, fitting for a play so linked with the city and its inhabitants. The details in Stephen's script seem painstakingly researched, and director Amanda Root mirrors this attention to detail in the set design. As well as, if we're honest, taking "inspiration" from Curious Incident's train track.

Initially Bluebird is simply an entertaining look into the life of a cabbie and the colourful ramblings of Jimmy's many (often drunk) "fares". And it is his customers who steal the show - at least for the first half. For just one act, there are a lot of scenes and many total blackouts which quickly begin to feel repetitive. However, we're saved from monotony by the sheer variety of the passengers and their chat. From a tube engineer tasked with checking all the lights between Clapham North and Stockwell (Nicholas Newman) to a man who had never heard of M&S (Tom Greaves), the visits to Jimmy's sedan are in turns funny, tragic, and moving; the often sudden shifts in tone never feeling out of place.

Publicity image for Bluebird

Photography © Andreas Grieger

While a couple of the shorter scenes admittedly add very little and would not be missed, Stephens' dialogue here is tight and engaging - not bad for 50 minutes comprised largely of snippets of things that happened earlier on. As Jimmy's customers reveal their darkest depths to him, we are given only hints about the driver, our protagonist remaining very much a mystery until we meet his ex-wife Claire Macneill (Selina Giles). With her arrival, the breezy atmosphere instantly changes - the light chatter of the previous scenes is gone and it all becomes a lot more serious. While the final reveal is rather predictable, the execution more than makes up for this; the dialogue is painfully believable in its depiction of the distance and strain between them.

The nature of the script allows for little movement, with Root largely confining the actors to the small makeshift car centre stage. Despite this, there is plenty of energy and variety in the performances. While Jimmy himself appears unremarkable in comparison to, well, everyone else, his scenes with Claire in the second half stand out. Both actors gives heartfelt portrayals of two people trying in their own ways to come to terms with a traumatic past. The tension, the silences, the failed attempts at small talk, the unshakeable feeling that there is a huge elephant in the room - sorry, in the car - create an uncomfortably awkward atmosphere, and we can't help but feel empathy for these two deeply hurt individuals. Giles provides an especially touching performance of a woman still unable to let go of something that happened many years past.

Dark, humorous and yet poignant, Bluebird is a compelling tale of the comedy and the tragedy in everyday life. With captivating performances and a script that never puts a foot wrong, this is a production awash in both style and substance, enthralling from start to finish. The journey may be sombre at times, but it's one you won't regret.

Bluebird ran from 5th to 30th May 2015 at the Tabard Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Turnham Green (District, Piccadilly)



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