Writer: Serafina Cusack
Director: Henry C Krempels
Reviewer: Richard Maguire
It’s the first week of The Vault Festival, London biggest fringe theatre and comedy festival, running for eight weeks in the cavernous spaces underneath Waterloo Station. Now in its seventh year, The Vault Festival 2019 promises to be the most ambitious so far, with over 400 shows planned. Blue Departed by the 21-year-old Serafina Cusack is one of the shows that opens the event.
A brutal tale of addiction, Blue Departed takes no prisoners in its early images of a drug-fuelled dystopia. A dead pigeon hangs from the ceiling, while Mark Conway playing Him narrates his walk home, meeting a dog that bites off his finger and a girl who’s taking part in a sponsored run. When Him finally gets home he finds Her, dead on the kitchen floor.
We are not quite sure how long she’s been lying on the floor or how she died. Has she been murdered or is her death the result of a drug overdose? Through a series of flashbacks we see the couple trying to control their heroin addiction, sometimes promising that the next hit will be their last. As well as looking back, the play pushes forward too, with Him entering Dante’s Circles of Hell, and her ghost comes along for the ride.
A love story of sorts, Blue Departedis an intense drama propelled by Cusack’s stream of consciousness style, which suits perfectly the hallucinatory cold turkeys and the trippy heroin highs. However, it is played too much at this heightened level; it needs more moments of calm and quiet if it not to become completely overblown. With a little more breath and a little more space, the images contained in the writing would stand out more, and, indeed, some of the writing is beautiful; panic is white gold, and corridors run like arteries in Cusack’s script.
Rebecca Layoo is Her, and as her narrative enfolds she becomes a tragic figure, her eyes lighting up at the prospect of more drugs, or a life without them. Him and Her and joined by His Brother, played by Richard James Clarke, who, thankfully, talks in prose rather than the poetry of the other two, but he brings little to the story. He acts as Him’s guide, leading his brother from one Circle of Hell to another.
At an hour long, the play does drag slightly and the concluding minutes hover between a few possible endings. Benny Goodman’s lighting design helps the play move forward, and director Henry C Krempels makes good use of the space, but overall Blue Departed’s franticness does undermine its own narrative. Confessions, nightmares, pillow talk and paranoia are painted all the same here.
It’s a bracing start to the festival, and it’s certain that we will hear the unique voice of Cusack again in the future. But in the meantime, Blue Departedis worth checking out.
Runs until 27 January 2019 | Image: Contributed