I ain’t got no fucking legs. I live my life on fucking wheels…
Blue on Blue is a dark comedy by Chips Hardy, currently playing at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Hardy wrote this play ten years ago and it was performed originally at Theatre503. Hardy is a prolific and successful writer and Blue on Blue reflects the strength of his work.
At first glance it appears to be the story of the rehabilitation of a soldier who now lives with the help of his de facto nephew. It’s a very thought provoking play. The title reflects a military term for what is more commonly known as ‘friendly fire’.
In Hardy’s play the central character, Moss, played by Darren Swift, is the most obvious candidate for having been injured like this – he is in a wheelchair, most of the time. Moss works the system to his best advantage. He’s not going to let a little trifle like living his life on wheels set him back.
David Gentely plays Carver, Moss’ ‘nephew’. Carver is so called because Moss once had a relationship with Carver’s aunt but there’s no real family connection between the two. Carver has sought refuge in the home of Moss as he deals with the consequences of a compulsive obsessive disorder. It transpires that Carver was caught in the crossfire at a robbery; when his mates all fled the scene, leaving him to the police. His condition makes him afraid of being shut up in enclosed spaces, and, thus, life was not easy for Carver in prison. Carver bears the scars from his mental disorder as well as his prison sentence.
Carver and Moss are coping well, in their co-dependent way, until a small scam by Moss concerning the services of Health Unit worker Marta, played by Ida Bonnast, rips apart the surface security of their domestic arrangement. Marta is caught in the friendly fire between the two men.
There is an element of cruelty in the way that Moss and Carver manipulate Marta, each using the girl to hurt the other until no-one is left undamaged. It is the ultimate Mexican stand off and nobody is a winner. But Hardy ensures that life goes on and, for all three, morphs to a new shape that serves them all in what is a triumph (of sorts) of the human spirit.
This is a very strong cast, all three actors being excellent in their performances.
Darren Swift makes Moss an amiable reprobate and transitions with skill into being very believable as the avenging man who unmercifully destroys his young adversary. A genuine war veteran, Swift, who lost both his legs in military service, dazzles here. His work is testament to the fact that more opportunities can and should be afforded to disabled actors, so that a wider range of stories can be told in entirely authentic ways.
Carver is a very complex character and Gentely subtly plays the damaged soul. He begins the play as a man who is particular about the way he lives but as the play proceeds he transforms, eventually fully committing to charting the depths of the Carver’s despair.
Lastly, Bonnast spreads sunshine and light into the play just as Ida does for the boy spirits in the damaged men for whom she cares. She convincingly portrays the hurt and confusion Marta experiences because of the games Carver and Moss play, and provides the glimpse of hope at the end of play that promises life can be recovered, become worth living again.
Director Harry Burton has done an excellent job of crafting this production, with great flow between the inherent drama and comedy. The only interruption to the rhythm of the play was the surprise set change near the end of the play. Not having to move the entire living room furniture would make that change cleaner, quicker and just as effective.
Blue on Blue is good night out at the theatre, shining a light on serious topics whilst still entertaining.