Bluebird   –  The Space, London

Writer:  Simon Stephens

Director:  Adam Hemming

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

Simon Stephens has accrued quite a back catalogue since 1998 when Bluebird, his London debut, opened at The Royal Court.  This early play about a bereaved minicab driver picking up various fares in a scorching hot summer demonstrates why Stephens later earned the label of an in-yer-face playwright. Unfortunately, The Space’s revival, while featuring some excellent acting, seems stuck in the slow lane.

This first offering from Stephens is gentle compared to the violence of later plays like Punk Rock and Motortown, but it still depicts the fragile, broken characters that populate most of his work. Jimmy, a minicab driver, who has lost his daughter in some tragedy, ferries other damaged people across the city of London. We meet the business man (an impressive Mike Duran) who wants to visit the place where his daughter was murdered; the sex worker (a charming Felicity Walsh) who has come to the capital to escape sexual abuse; the teacher (brutally played by Kathryn O’Reilly) who is so desperate to have a child that she will sleep with any man; and the bouncer (a suitably edgy Nathan Hughes) who perhaps is not the hard man he makes himself out to be.

Another one of Jimmy’s fares, a disheartened engineer (Adam Scott Pringle), suggests that there are only ‘two defining factors’ about Londoners: ‘they come from somewhere else. And they want to leave.’ And yet Jimmy is happy and has nowhere else to go. During these rides, played very statically on a cross-shaped stage, we hear more about Jimmy’s life, his dead daughter, and his estranged wife, Clare. When he finally meets up with the latter, the accusations and confessions between husband and wife are material that Stephens revisits in Sea Wall,a play written specifically for Andrew Scott, who recently appeared in its revival at the Old Vic earlier this summer.

But by the time we reach this showdown between Jimmy and Clare, the anticipated tension has been lost because of Adam Hemming’s leisurely direction. All the characters appear to speak slowly and deliberately, and scene changes, where fragments of Jimmy’s car are placed at various spots on the stage, only slow down the action further. As the couple, Jonathan Keane and Anna Doolan bravely give naturalistic performances, but the production would benefit from a more stylistic approach. It could also be played without an interval, which again seems to drag out this otherwise fairly short play.

The set doesn’t really help either, especially as the whole of the second half is played at the end of one of the four extensions, forgetting that the audience is seated on all sides of the stage. This play should be speedy and dynamic, but here it is slow and ponderous. Jimmy’s minicab takes the long way home, and you’d be forgiven for sleeping in the back seat.

Runs until 4 August 2018 | Image: Contributed

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