Wednesday 23 January 2019

23/01/19: Blue Departed, The Vault, Waterloo

Written by Serafina Cusack and performed by three members of the Anima Theatre Company, Blue Departed is a remarkably intense piece of work. A modern, urban version of Dante’s descent through the nine circles of Hell, it details the utter despair endured by a drug addict (brilliantly captured by Mark Conway) who has just lost the woman he loves (Rebecca Layoo) to a heroin overdose. Cast in the role of Dante, he relays his suffering in a near-continuous series of exchanges with his dead lover, who “speaks” to him through interrogations, recriminations and reminiscences – angry, heartbroken, defiant, loving – and who physically haunts and taunts him around the stage with a gymnastic fluidity. Their paranoid, nihilistic, almost stream-of-consciousness chatter jumps around in both chronology and location – from his flat to her funeral service and a wake that seems to take place in a casino – underscoring how oppressive and all-pervasive his state of self-loathing has become. His earnest younger brother (Richard James Clarke) provides glimpses of sanity and warmth, but the downward trajectory is inescapable.

This one-hour play is certainly bleak, but flashes of humour offer some much-needed relief. Props are minimal – a couple of stools, a few items of clothing hanging from a rail, two plates of food that have a grotesquely comic fate – but the stripped-back set is effective because most of the “action” exists in the shadowy forms of memory or hallucination. It’s a play that mainly occurs within a fevered mind.

Within the small “Cage” room at The Vault, the actors have limited space to work in. But director Henry C. Krempels turns this limitation to the play’s advantage: the restricted floor area only serves to further highlight the characters’ sense of claustrophobia and imminent panic.

Bursts of menacing ambient sound are used creatively, with layers of distorted electronics accompanying moments of crisis or heightened awareness. This works well in that it’s hugely atmospheric, but there were points at which the noise was too loud and threatened to drown out the actors. That’s a shame because it is a play in which every word counts.

This one criticism aside, Blue Departed is a gripping and desperately sad study of pain, addiction and loss.