Writer: Grace Quigley
Director: Ianthe Bathurst
As the audience enters the intimate studio space at the back of London’s King’s Head pub, they are greeted by the sound of The Streets Fit but You Know It. A bottle of WKD Blue rests alongside Smirnoff and Glen’s beneath a mirror, upon which a Sugababes sticker sits. It is joined by various school-kid doodles. We are instantly aware of the world we have arrived in. Thea Mayeux’s set and Karima Antoinette’s soundtrack alone oozes noughties nostalgia.
It’s 2008. Labour is still in power. Flip-phones are all the rage. MSN was as far as social media encroached on our lives. The world seemed simpler. Our protagonist would argue otherwise. Devoting her days to browsing Bluewater shopping centre for the latest Forever 21 outfit, the 17-year-old is endeavouring to navigate her way through school and all that comes with it. There’s the gossip and the rumours which permeate her peer group. She’s anxious about being seen as frigid. Then there are the drunken parties, providing an opportunity to flirt with the boys. It’s at one of these boozy gatherings that our character falls in love at first sight. This time, however, it is with a girl rather than a guy. What will people think? Why does she feel this way? How does she make it stop? So begins a pithy and pacy play which centres on a young woman coming to terms with and embracing her sexuality.
Writer and performer Grace Quigley is at the helm of this one woman show, which enjoyed a positive reception at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. The actor is a master storyteller, engaging her audience with eye contact and even sitting alongside them at one point. She has the room in the palm of her hand as she regales us with her humorous anecdotes. There is a real, raw and relatable grittiness to both the character and her dialogue, with the writing occasionally veering towards the more poetic and lyrical.
Under Ianthe Bathurst’s assured direction, not a second is wasted. The intricate level of detail placed on body language, facial expression and movement adds layers to what might have become a superficial and forgettable foray into well-trodden territory. Coming-of-age dramas are easy to find. What distinguishes Bluewater is the authenticity at the heart of the play. Comical scenes are punctuated by provocative subject matter with the very notion of queerness and all it means as well as self-acceptance placed under a microscope. There is a great deal to digest here but the structure and format of the play allows for bite-size pieces to be fed to the audience – some of whom will no doubt chew on the fat as they ruminate over the themes long after the house lights come on.
Running at under 50 minutes, the play enjoys all the frenzied unpredictability of a night out. The sporadic strobe lighting and aforementioned noughties soundtrack adds to this. Quigley’s command of the entire space – forcing her audience to follow her every move, as well as her use of dance and physicality also injects an enthused energy into the piece. The actor knows when to slow things down, however. Appropriate pause for reflection when the subject of sexuality and queerness is contemplated allows for breathing space. A highly charged monologue about social and political injustice renders the entire studio silent. There is depth and substance beneath the pop-culture references and amusing narration.
Unapologetically LGBTQ+ and brimming with British humour and recognisable colloquialisms, this is a carefully considered and beautifully executed piece of new writing. Quigley certainly knows her audience but now a wider audience needs to know her.
Runs until 29 October 2022