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Blue Fence

Hester O’Shea
Pleasance Theatre with the Bendrix Theatre and The Stroke Association
Pleasance Theatre, Islington
(2011)

Blue Fence publicity graphic

Blue Fence proves to have a most unusual start; it doesn’t come from the actors, nor the technical wizardry of the design team, but from the Front of House team. The setting is some kind of gallery with a centrepiece of simple shapes artistically placed, the lead actors pace around it with wine and begin ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the finer details. Suddenly a lady, later revealed as part of the theatre management, walks on stage and says to the actors, “I’m sorry, you have to start again, there’s still loads of people to come in” and exits.

Thinking this is all very post modern, the fashionable looking audience of North London sits up expectantly for the next surprise. Disappointingly however, it seems this was a genuine mishap and the actors (who had scarpered off shamefacedly) trooped back on ten minutes later and the show went on.

The effect of this unexpected added drama was that the play and the actors were at a disadvantage from the start. Having been jerked out of the gallery world so forcibly, the suspension of disbelief was much harder to regain as the play started for a second time. Half of the audience had already had a taste of what was to come and conversations about alternative ways to deal with latecomers had been thoroughly exhausted.

The beginning of Blue Fence takes place at a launch of the 2012 Olympic Arts Proposals, the hero and heroine tip-toe around the art installation and tentatively flirt and at the same time declaim on the subject of the arts and funding and the Olympic community spirit. It is rather stilted, a bit too conscious, the performances are rather gauche, but who knows if the actors were just feeling a little upstaged from their earlier telling off?

The performances improved markedly with a change of scene, although Thomas Hunt, playing a broad Scot, started speaking like an Essex boy. This was an indication, it later became clear, that he was playing another character entirely, in fact he plays three in total, as does Antonia Kinlay, and only Flora Nicholson in the central role does not switch personas through the play. They are all good in their performances. Nicholson striving for a pain and a depth in her struggle to understand her new identity (the play is about her life after a stroke and how people’s perceptions are altered by disability) is convincing and sometimes moving. Kinlay has the more comedic range of characters and her timing is confident and assured. Hunt has a more difficult time trying to clarify his mannerisms between his two English characters but his Scot, the hero, Tom, was thoughtful, believable as the frustrated lover and carer and brought hope to an otherwise often bleak play.

As a piece of new writing, it was refreshing to see something topical that also has poetry and an understanding of human struggles. Sometimes a lack of time or polish showed through; the first scene is quite mannered and grates in places, the character of Benji was unnecessary and it was slightly dull to see the same heroes and villains thrown up again in the form of artists and politicians. There was not a balanced view of arts and business; instead a dramatic staging of the identity crises of the marginalized - specifically, the disabled.

The play posed a question, do disabled people need special treatment or do we give them special treatment because we do not want to treat them equally? The other questions and dilemmas thrown up by the play were interesting and challenging, they were handled maturely, not laboured or patronized, but it would have been nice to have explored the lives of these characters and their journeys a little further. When the play finished, I realised I didn’t want it to, that I wanted to carry on watching, which is surely exactly what you want in a play of ideas?

"Blue Fence" is playing at The Pleasance Theatre until12th March

Reviewer: Lizzie Singh