Robert Tanitch reviews On Blueberry Hill at Trafalgar Studios, London SW1
The multiple-award winning playwright and novelist Sebastian Barry, the current Irish Laureate of Fiction, wanted to write “a play that would explore secrets and complicity, crime and punishment, forgiveness and redemption and – ultimately – love.”
The play is On Blueberry Hill, which arrives in London direct from critically acclaimed and sold-out seasons in New York and Dublin.
The stage is bare except for two bunk beds, one on top of the other. Two late middle-aged men, a former seminarian and a former mason, share a cell in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. They are serving life-sentences for murder.
The seminarian is gay and was deeply in love with a young man who died tragically. The mason, son of a tinker, was happily married with three children. He doted on his sensitive son. They both have nostalgic memories of the past
They never talk to each other directly. Their alternating monologues trace how they came to be in prison and how they came to share the same cell. The monologues gradually interlock in an alarming manner.
The language they use (and as you would expect from Barry, a natural wordsmith) is lyrical.
There are Niall Buggy and David Ganly, two splendid Irish actors, who have regularly performed in the UK, to deliver the poetry and make you want to read the text.
The story-lines, which involve two murders, one totally inexplicable, the other an act of revenge, both horrific, is gripping.
Barry’s play, notable for its compassion and its humanity, is directed by Jim Culleton, artistic director of the Dublin-based new writing company, Fishamble. It is acted without interval and lasts 1 hour 45 minutes. Buggy’s and Ganly’s powerful performances hold the audience’s attention completely.
Buggy singing Blueberry Hill, the 1940 song popularized by Glenn Miller and later by Fats Domino, gives the production’s final moments a gentle lift.