'So may the outward shows be least themselves: the world is still deceived with ornament', Act III, Scene II, The Merchant of Venice
Bluebird, a play by Simon Stephens, is presented by Spotlight. It is a play about the most important things in life such as love, death and family – yet it is all captured in the most mundane setting: a taxi. The taxi acts as a metaphor for the liminality of city life; as one passenger explains: ‘they come from somewhere else and they want to leave’. The brief encounters offer an opportunity to open up. This interesting composition presents a unique insight into the fleeting glimpses of strangers’ lives that taxi drivers must see on a daily basis, and the more complex but often untold stories of their own.
Ed Lees presents Jimmy as annoyed, yet patient, as he listens to the stories he didn’t ask to be told by the ‘fares’ who grace his company. You don’t immediately warm to his sarcastic nature and dry sense of humour. Awkward, uncomfortable and uptight, you feel as though he means well but keeps getting things wrong. With understated one-liners (delivered with perfect timing) and an unfolding personal story, the audience slowly warm to him.
In all honesty, I found the plot a bit too dramatic. With the first passenger immediately jumping into a very serious story and almost every character with an extended dialogue onwards to have a death, dark past or crisis happening in their lives, this translated into a difficulty with empathising with the characters straight away. The monologues were dire, visceral and desperate and all well performed. However, this made the audience become de-sensitised to such emotional topics, so that the more they popped up the less of an impact they had. Coupled with some fairly cliché lines, at times the play felt predictable.
This was not down to the actors themselves, who individually were all stunning. Two standouts have to be Elliot Brett and Lizzie Annis – playing completely contrasting roles. Brett, an eccentric character, delivered such an enthusiastic speech about pigeons falling out of nests; a much needed comic break with a reception that I think surprised even the actors, who had to pause for extended lengths between lines. The audience were really laughing. Annis plays the taxi driver’s estranged wife in a tense climax where the two finally meet after five years. She was angry. A tone of despair, loss, hurt and hopelessness captured so accurately I found myself sitting uncomfortably listening to her demand for answers, all of which seemed to strike emotions beyond those on the stage.
I felt the space could have been used more effectively. The majority of the play involves a car set up in the centre of what is admittedly a very small stage. Though in the second act where the car is less involved, it would have been refreshing to see other parts utilised, even if for brief moments. With a monologue-heavy play, a more dynamic set up which involved physical interaction between characters or less static scenes, perhaps would have kept the play at the same tempo throughout.
Overall, a very thought-provoking piece of theatre which will make me reconsider my small talk the next time I jump into a cab.
Ella Faye Howcroft