EDINBURGH FRINGE 3: Blue Heart/Massage
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 1997

Caryl Churchill's double bill Blue Heart, presented by Out Of Joint at the Traverse, begins with a series of Ayckbournian timeslips. In Heart's Desire a family await the arrival home of their grown-up daughter from Australia; the same opening lines "She's taking her time", "Not really" are heard time and again until they, and the accompanying movements, acquire a comedy simply through repetition. On each occasion, though, the conversation proceeds a little further before shooting off on a tangent. Gradually it becomes apparent that we are watching scenarios running through the heads of each of the characters: the exchanges and events they dream of occurring during the mundane business of waiting. Some scenes betray an authoritarian bent, some a desire to upset the family applecart, some are simply bizarre without giving too much away, this is probably the first time Max Stafford-Clark has ever directed an emu. Finally we see the "authoritative", "objective" "reality" of the scene in its entirety.

After the interval, Blue Kettle also concerns clashing realities and the arbitrariness of events, albeit in a more sombre mode. Jason Watkins' Derek, for reasons best known to himself, collects mothers, pretending to be the son they gave up for adoption four decades ago. As he deals in turn with a clutch of would-be parents and also with his disapproving girlfriend, occasional words of dialogue are replaced by either "blue" or "kettle". The frequency of replacement gradually increases, the words are cut down to single syllables or even single phonemes, until the final exchange when the truth is revealed to one of his collection is conducted almost entirely in this gibberish; we understand what is going on from the speaker's emotions and cadence patterns alone. The double bill is entertaining and intriguing, and cries out to be described in Edinburgh-shorthand as "offbeat".

At Stella Artois Assembly, meanwhile, Steven Berkoff continues his assimilation into the heritage industry. He may don a tight little frock and suspenders for Massage, but nothing else has changed. The England he writes about is simply the underside of that imagined by John Major more squalid than the vision of warm beer and cricket on the green, but equally mythical. (For heaven's sake, his backdrop even includes a huge cartoon of Thatcher, and at one point his co-performer Barry Philips inveighs against rampant inflation hardly up-to-the-minute stuff.)  His staging also betrays a sloppiness of theatrical vision: the same kitchen may be on- or offstage in the same set of scenes, as happens to be convenient, and Berkoff as "Mum" still drapes his housecoat left over right, wearing it as a man. His dramatic ode to the hand-relief industry is a brief sketch which, with digressions and irrelevant Berkoffian set-pieces, wilts over a full 90 minutes. Still, it is solid, traditional Berkoff; the knighthood beckons.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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