Categorised | Theatre reviews

Review: Under the Blue Sky

Posted on July 30, 2008 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Under the Blue Sky

Where: Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London
When: 7.45pm Mondays-Saturdays, 3pm matinees on Thursdays and Saturdays. Runs for 10 weeks from the 15th July 2008
How long: One and half hours without interval
How much: £15-£47.50 (includes £1 restoration levy)
Tickets from: 0870 060 6623 (+£3), Ticketmaster (+£3) or www.theambassadors.com (-£1.50/ticket on top three price bands)

Yes, I'm back. It's me, “Easily swayed into going to the theatre by famous TV casts” man. How you doing?

This time, I went to see Catherine Tate (Doctor Who, The Catherine Tate Show), Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd) and Francesca Annis (Between The Lines, Dune and Krull - she's been in better stuff, too, but the last two amused me) in some sort of play or something about teachers behaving badly.

Plot
FRANCESCA ANNIS, LISA DILLON, NIGEL LINDSAY, CHRIS O’DOWD, DOMINIC ROWAN and CATHERINE TATE star in:

UNDER THE BLUE SKY, David Eldridge’s award-winning, funny and touching play - three subtly connected love stories that reveal in turn the roller-coaster ride of lust in its prime, the sacrifices of a life in public service and its unrequited passions.

In the long shadow of the twentieth century, Eldridge’s play is a delicate yet truthful depiction of all the degrees of love - from fondness and affection through to the headier extremes of a drunken romp. It gives us an all too recognisable portrayal of the way in which uncertainties, misunderstanding and the unsaid lead to unexpected results for three couples who seem destined never to say the right thing.

Is it any good?
It's not as good as earlier reviews might have suggested. The play consists of three acts, each set a year after the other and involving a pair of teachers who may or may not have romantic designs on each other. Although seemingly separate, the six characters have all encountered each other at some point, and you learn what happened to the previous pair during the following acts.

The first act involves Chris O'Dowd and Lisa Dillon, two friends teaching at the same East London school. He asks her over for a meal to tell her something and things spiral out of control from there.

Catherine Tate and Dominic Rowan make up the second act, a drunken romp between two confidants that ends up going very badly indeed.

Francesca Annis and Nigel Lindsay round off the play: two former colleagues who still go on holiday together finally realising what the other feels.

The play itself is a little unsatisfying with a mixed message. Essentially, it's an examination of different kinds of love and what it drives people to do. Teachers, it seems, are not all-knowing and wise, and they can make bad choices about whom they fall in love with and when. Only when they've reached sufficient self-awareness and know what they want from life themselves can they reach perfection in love.

But a lot of it feels forced and odd. The necessity of the linking narrative between acts means that characters have to tell unnecessarily long and uncharacteristic stories to each other.

Dillon's character initially seems reasonable but then does something bizarre, which would normally spell the very definite ending of hers and O'Dowd's relationship. Except it doesn't.

Tate's and Rowan's characters are just pure evil and Rowan's is almost completely unbelievable.

Only Annis and Lindsay's characters are truly likeable, and Annis is forced to recount a tedious World War One story that has apparently opened her eyes to what she wants years after most people would have worked it out. Indeed, you find yourself wishing during all the acts for less repressed characters who might take less than three to nine years to reveal their love for each other and then dance around each other for seemingly ages afterwards. Where are some Americans when you need them?

A lot of the time, you'll be double-checking in your head, too: “hang on, it's 1997, he's 28, so how come he's been to a 'discotheque'? How old's she supposed to be? Or her? Or her? Or him? When would his father have been killed?” And so on. It's a clumsiness of the writing that you're trying to fill in gaps in seemingly throw-away lines or that masquerade as characterisation.

Performances
Performances are a little uneven. Annis is just magnificent: she's truly outstanding and easily steals the show. Lindsay is fantastic too and that pairing is by far the most enjoyable as a result.

O'Dowd and Dillon both feel a little glib and uncommitted. For the first half of the first act, there wasn't a line of Dillon's that you couldn't have been delivered better and with more feeling, although when things get serious, she improves considerably and you start to buy her character - just as the script lets her down. Although he acts well, O'Dowd never seems emotionally committed: you don't really buy Nick's equivocation. To a certain extent, that's the nature of the character, revealed later on in the play. But other than wishful thinking on Dillon's part, there seems little reason to believe anything he says.

However, O'Dowd is a million times better than Rowan, who you never buy, not even for a second, as a virginal 28-year-old who's never kissed a girl and waltzes, but who's a steaming cesspit of misogyny. The humour in the second act is heavy handed, and Rowan appears to have taken that on board and is acting in a farce, rather than in something more serious. But it feels like he's looking down on the character and mocking him, even as he's playing him - which is admittedly understandable, given the character's implausibility, at least.

Tate, the main draw of the show, is every bit as good as you might expect. There were a few too many Tate mannerisms and too much shouting, unfortunately, during the comedic section but when things take a turn for the nasty, she is very good indeed, with a marvellously delivered diatribe of darkness by an (of course) soulless maths teacher.

Worth going?
With its linking of sections, the play is involving all the way through, even during the times when it seems implausible or inexplicable. The second act feels awkward and incongruous, as though Hannibal Lecter had arrived for lunch during Bridget Jones's Diary. And there are some flaky performances.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws, it is darkly comic, has good dialogue, deals with serious, adult issues, will make you laugh, and will run you through a whole series of emotions including horror, disgust and happiness before the end. It's enjoyable enough that you'll never feel like you've wasted your evening and at least some of the situations involved will resonate with anyone who's ever been in love. But it could and should have been better.

Rating: 3/5

The audience
Nothing to report. They all behaved themselves. Well done audience.

The theatre
The Duke of York's is an old, reliable theatre with plenty of seats including stalls, royal circle and upper circle (seating plan). The stalls are quite a bit lower than the stage, so you're going to be looking up for most of the performance. Seats are comfy and there's reasonable leg room (even for someone who's 6'3“ like me), although it's a bit of a squeeze getting there. Don't feel you'll need to be too near the front to get the most from the performance, and indeed the royal circle might give you the best view overall.

The stalls bar's a bit small, with only three or four tables. You can get a 250ml glass of Merlot for £5, Smirnoff Ice for £3.50-£3.75 (I forget) and the serving staff are friendly. They'd run out of rosé half an hour before the show started though.

Toilets are a bit nasty and microscopic, and you'll be queuing no matter what time you go and what gender you are.

The programme
£3. Quite chunky, with two completely irrelevant articles about teachers, some production photos and bios, and a little spiel about the theatre.

Other reviews
There's a review round-up at What's On Stage, but there are also reviews at Music OMH, This Is London, and The Metro, to name but a few.

Videos
There's an official trailer:

And here's a video from press night

Cast
Francesca Annis (Anne)
Lisa Dillon (Helen)
Nigel Lindsay (Robert)
Chris O’Dowd (Nick)
Dominic Rowan (Graham)
Catherine Tate (Michelle)

David Eldridge (Writer)
Anna Mackmin (Director)
Lez Brotherston (Designer)
Mark Henderson (Lighting)
Paul Arditti (Sound)
Sonia Friedman Productions (Producer)
Robert G. Bartner (Producer)
Jamie Hendry (Producer)

Read other posts about:

Allowable comments

You can leave just about any kind of comment you like. You can argue, suggest I am (or anyone else is) wrong, leaving general messages of love – anything. However, you absolutely can't leave messages that attack other commenters (or me), are simple variations of "your review sucks" or that are misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc: your comment will either be edited or deleted and you'll be barred from leaving any further comments. We want to keep it civil here.

Spoilers

You can hide a spoiler by putting <spoiler> before it and </spoiler> after it. Hover over a spoiler to reveal it!

Featured Articles

Marvel's Iron Fist

Season two of Daredevil but done right