BLUEBERRY PLAY is a short run, late night offering at the Old Fitz Theatre and well worth the effort it might take to get there at 10pm or the special time of 7pm on Sunday. It offers a sweet story crafted with a lovely sense of fun by playwright Ang Collins, directed with a similar odd amusement by Sheridan Harbridge and performed with wide eyed comic excellence by solo performer Julia Robertson.
But there’s more going on in this second person, direct to audience, relation of events in an adolescent life than just the humour that’s squeezed into its compact 60 minutes… it’s bursting with the tartness of themes around child carers, adolescent sex, mental health, the power of female friendships in adversity and the inequities of class.
The girl is on her way to a party. There’s a private school boy she likes and she is dressed as a blueberry for the occasion. Her logic is sound about this choice and she seems confident in her shy and slightly cynical way. She’s got a bit else on her mind beside the nicely proportioned Johnno though. Dad isn’t well on a whole heap of fronts, Dave the old, fat Lab is coming to the end, Mum is harassed and coming to the end of her empathy tether. Add in a chili sauce issue and there’s a tussle going on inside the rotund velveteen fruit.
Julia Robertson wears the Blueberry costume well. The play has been changing over its various outings and this production is just as delightful and artfully delivered as previous showings. Robertson really captures the twitchy inner conflict of the girl as she moves inside the suit and scratches and pulls at the cloth covering. Robertson also has a particular dexterity in creating worlds, quickly and with strong physicality in the imagery. The hand job is funny gross and the scoop of cornflakes irrevocably sad. We also see what she sees, a “slightly squashed cupcake” is beautifully evoked, viscerally in her eyeline and external expression. And her vocal work is just as expressive with charming character inside the deceptive simplicity of Collins’ writing. “Sluttier” is classic!
Harbridge’s direction plays into this skilful building of place with a sense of tension created in a variety of pace and her utilization of floor work. In this space, put the girl on the floor and the audience must necessarily engage actively. With a paling fence behind and a ubiquitous brick fence, complete with mailbox, the design is recognizable place setting too. (Designer: Nicholas Fry; Associate Designer: Luke D’Alessandro) Add in Killer Pythons and Oak milk and Chux and this is one of our stories.
With a very restrained sound score from Clemence Williams which works at an emotional level rather than with youthful blasting and a very astute lighting design built into his other rig for the shared production in the theatre by Alexander Berlage. The graphics are also very well placed, great fun and not too many.
The chatter as the audience leaves BLUEBERRY PLAY is high spirited with people laughing and sharing their favourite moments but the play has an after-tang of social relevance. The girl’s awkward situation is realistically portrayed despite the humour and there are things to ruminate on and discuss. Her best friend Maddy knows just how to help, user issues with psychopharmacology is a conversation starter and how to educate young women about what sex should mean to them is woven into the fabric of the blueberry sharing. It’s a great little show which will make you laugh out loud often and just as often inspire a wry sigh.