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Under the Blue Sky (review)

Under the Blue Sky

Review by Lizzie Guilfoyle

DAVID Eldridge’s Under the Blue Sky opens with a bang – the IRA bombing of Canary Wharf to be precise – and immediately seizes the complete, maybe even shocked attention of the audience. The question is, does it have the energy to sustain that same level of attention for a full 90 minutes?

Described as a funny and touching play, Under the Blue Sky is divided into three acts, each performed by just two actors. Yet all three acts, set over an 18-month period, are subtly and very cleverly connected – never mind that all six characters are teachers.

First there are Nick (Chris O’Dowd) and Helen (Lisa Dillon) whose long-term, virtually platonic relationship – they did ‘it’ just the once – is put in jeopardy when Nick announces that he’s moving away from London and the state comprehensive where both teach, to Essex and the private sector.

Next, come Graham (Dominic Rowan) and Michelle (Catherine Tate) who are about to consummate their lust in Graham’s bedroom; and last, but by no means least, it’s the turn of Anne (Francesca Annis) and Robert (Nigel Lindsay) who are enjoying a morning together in Devon before Robert heads for his home and work in Essex.

There is, of course, much more to it than that. For example, the amiable Nick who somehow manages to combine cooking chilli with staying one step ahead of the desperately pleading Helen, reveals himself as both weak and selfish. However, I wasn’t totally convinced by Helen’s semi-manic knife wielding stunt although it did serve as a timely reminder of the current lamentable knife culture.

Meanwhile, Michelle, the archetypal tart (but forget the heart), is somehow beaten at her own game by the deplorable Graham so any sympathy you may initially feel for him quickly evaporates. In fact, and despite bringing it upon herself, it’s Michelle who ultimately earns our pity.

Finally, and coming out decidedly best, are the more mature Anne and her junior by some 20 years, the boyishly charming Robert who, after years of friendship, finally and gleefully acknowledge their love for each other. Of course, they are older and wiser so who knows what mistakes colour their past, but hopefully they have learned from them. I particularly enjoyed Robert’s hip swivelling moves to Neil Sedaka’s Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, an apt choice given Anne’s earlier intentention of severing ties with Robert.

Without exception, the cast turn in fine performances and to their immense credit, really do hold the audience captive for the full 90 minutes – no mean feat when you consider that only two actors are ever on stage at the same time or that Lez Brotherston’s minimalistic sliding sets offer little distraction. They are, however, aided by a script that is both touching and comic and dare I say, all too real, uncomfortably so at times.

Under the Blue Sky may be only 90 minutes long (and believe me, it seems even shorter) but it’s a slice of quality theatre that shouldn’t be missed.

Under the Blue Sky by David Eldridge.

Director – Anna Mackmin.
Design – Lez Brotherston.
Lighting – Mark Henderson.
Sound – Paul Arditti.
Choreographer – Scarlett Mackmin.

CAST (in order of appearance): Chris O’Dowd, Lisa Dillon, Catherine Tate, Dominic Rowan, Francesca Annis and Nigel Lindsay.

Under the Blue Sky continues at the Duke of York’s Theatre until September 20, 2008.