Review: Blue on Blue at Tristan Bates Theatre

Dysfunctional family relationships get a fresh angle in Chips Hardy’s Blue on Blue, which ventures into areas other writers may fear to tread. A dark comedy about a wounded ex-soldier and his mentally fragile nephew, Blue on Blue is an intense and fast-paced examination of human relationships and the damage that can sometimes be inflicted by the very best of intentions.

Former soldier Moss (Darren Swift) lost his legs to friendly fire while in combat, and now lives in a small, run-down flat with his nephew Carver (Daniel Gentely). The two have a fraught relationship, and what initially seems to be banter turns nasty when Moss reveals he’s been having weekly visits from Marta (Ida Bonnast), a perky Hungarian carer who’s unwittingly been going above and beyond her job description. Inevitably, the two men embark on a battle for Marta’s attention, which has unexpected consequences for all three of them when it becomes clear Moss isn’t the only one in need of help.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Neither of the male characters, on first encounter, is particularly likeable – both are foul-mouthed (the language in the first five minutes is not for the faint-hearted) and quick-tempered, and Carver’s a convicted burglar while Moss is an unashamed misogynist. Yet there are unexpected moments of tenderness and vulnerability between them as the play goes on that reveal there’s a lot more to their relationship, and it’s in these moments that actors Darren Swift (himself an ex-serviceman, who lost his legs to a terrorist bomb in Northern Ireland) and Daniel Gentely really shine. Ida Bonnast’s Marta, on the other hand, has the opposite trajectory; she starts out as a ray of sunshine in the men’s lives, but by the end of the play her presence has begun to feel intrusive and unwelcome.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Harry Burton’s production moves along rapidly, and while this maintains the energy of the play, there are times when the dialogue is delivered so quickly that it’s easy to miss important plot details. On the other hand, the scene changes seem to take an unnecessarily long time – with each scene quite distinct from the others, this doesn’t necessarily interrupt the flow, but it does contrast oddly with the rapid pace of the rest of the play.

Blue on Blue – a military term for friendly fire – subtly draws out the various ways in which the well-intentioned actions of allies can have catastrophic and life-changing consequences, not just in combat but in life in general. It’s a play that possibly needs to be seen more than once in order to unravel its multiple layers of meaning, but even on a first viewing Hardy’s writing provides plenty of food for thought.

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