views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Under the Blue Sky
The Drayton Theatre
8th March 2015


The cast of Under the Blue Sky

Photography supplied by Firework Productions

My old secondary school - despite being a posh old place - has seen one teacher fired for viewing porn in class and another for asking pupils inappropriate questions over t'interwebs. Yep, teachers get up to more than you'd like to think, even in the "nice" independent establishments. In David Eldridge's Under the Blue Sky, three vignettes focus on three different pairs of teachers, all linked by one school in Essex, but other than that, they're fairly standalone.

In the first one-act play, we meet Helen (Louise Tyler) and Nick (Alex Piggins). The pacing and tone feel a little off here, with Helen desperate and obsessive, several glasses of wine having loosened her lip. Nick is unfeeling and oblivious to the point that the audience can't help but laugh at the difference in attitudes, but it's not clear whether this woodenness is deliberate on the part of director Denholm Spurr. I suspect it has indeed been milked for laughs, but it would help if either some incidental music clarified the tone, or perhaps Helen's reaction was softened or more humour brought out. As it stands, Helen is genuinely upset and pushed to the edge, and that makes the comedic element difficult to fully get behind. As we smell the aroma of freshly chopped onions filling the space, we can sense Helen trying very hard not to cry herself, and feel sorry for her. Nick's treatment is so very callous, and we're not sure how much of that we're "allowed" to find funny.

It's the second couple who provide the most interest. Michelle (Natalie Sheriff) and Graham (David Paisley) get down to business with some deliberately cringeworthy sexy talk, with Michelle a believably emotional drunk tottering around the stage and provoking Graham without any remorse. When things take a darker turn, it's unexpected, the levity in the first act doesn't prepare us for this, but here the shift in tone is clear and powerful. The substance to Under the Blue Sky definitely lies here. Michelle's conduct is outrageous for a teacher - not only does she flit from man to man, she doesn't seem to believe the in loco parentis rules apply to her. Graham is disturbingly emotionally immature - he may be pushed by Michelle, but he's also pathetic and whiny. First he attracts our pity, then we grow to hate him.

The cast of Under the Blue Sky

Photography supplied by Firework Productions

Anne (Rachel Dobell) and Robert (Tino Orsini) provide contrast as a more "normal" couple. Sure, there's an age gap, but there are no alarmingly dramatic threats, just two people who like each other, and who find happiness in that connection. It's an uncomplicated segment which doesn't take us on the same rollercoaster as Michelle and Graham's story, but which provides us with a bit of optimism. Life can be a bitch, but not always. Sometimes love is wonderfully simple and pure.

Although part of me would quite like to see these three plays fully separated, as in Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests, the scene changes are dealt with cleverly, reinforcing the school link between the three vignettes and the vulnerability of each character. The actors all look far too old to be dressed in school uniform, but whether they're meant to represent the pupils of the teachers in the play, or regressed versions of the teachers, we see six people at what is quite possibly the most vulnerable part of their lives. Ah, teen angst, nothing like it. And it reminds us that this is a production about people - we look past the job title and examine the individuals and their tangled personal lives.

Under the Blue Sky doesn't have quite the same punch in the gut feeling as some of Eldridge's other plays, such as Festen, but there's a hint of the same darkness festering at the midpoint. This section alone makes the whole production worth seeing, with Sheriff very much the stand-out performer. It's arguable whether any of the teachers in this play should be in education, but what Eldridge successfully does is portray them in a very human way, making the point that they're as fallible as the rest of us.

Under the Blue Sky opened on 8th March and runs until 9th March 2015 at the Drayton Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Gloucester Road (Piccadilly, Circle, District)

Follow us on Twitter

Leicester Square







performing arts