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Review: Blue (Seven Dials Playhouse)

Review by Sophie Wilby

 

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Making its London debut at The Seven Dials Playhouse following a critically acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe run (for which it achieved the prestigious Fringe First Award), Blue is a tense and powerful story of truth and lies, of justice and injustice, of loyalty and betrayal. It is a powerful and poignant production which deserves every accolade it has received so far and every accolade I hope it achieves in the future.

 

Set in 2021, a few months after the Capitol riots, recently promoted LAPD Detective LaRhonda Parker (June Carryl) is presented with a difficult case. She is investigating Sargent Boyd Sully (John Colella), her husband’s former partner on the force, about a recent incident - the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man during a traffic stop. 


 

Taking place over the course of a formal interview, Blue is described as “an hour that will leave you laughing, crying and thinking” and on all three counts, it certainly delivers. And though delivering this within just 60 minutes is difficult, June Carryl’s writing makes it seem easy. It is so well-paced, at no point did the story feel rushed or incomplete nor did it ever feel drawn out. Under the direction of Michael Matthews, her writing was brought vividly to life, creating an engaging performance from start to finish. 

 

Not only is June Carryl the incredible writer of this show, but she is also incredible in the role of LaRhonda. As the writer, her connection to the story shines through in her remarkably emotive performance. We see her heartbreak as the story progresses and the lies of someone she considered a friend unravel, revealing a truth that this friend is actually an enemy. But whilst this feels contained within the fiction of the story, there is a sense that we end on what feels like a very real heartbreak. 



Her sobs at the end of the performance resonate with a raw, intense grief that feels chillingly poignant as the names of people killed by the police are read out. It is a scene that will stay with me for a very long time, and that is why it feels like a scene everyone should witness. Although to witness such a display of emotion felt almost wrong, as though we were impeding on a private moment of vulnerability, perhaps that is the point. We needed to see her grief because we tend to shy away from intense displays of emotion. But these displays shouldn’t be a private matter because their source is a public one - a public danger. The producer’s (Mark Giberson, Betsy Zajko, and Rebecca Eisenberg) note at the beginning of the programme tells us that 3 people a day are killed by the police in the USA. That is the grief of 3 families or groups of friends, and it felt as though June was conveying that to us in this one moment. Her grief will stay with me and rightly so, it should be a grief we all share and feel intensely. 

 

John Coella’s performance is similarly impressive. Though beginning as a likeable, friendly character, his mask slips throughout the performance, first slowly, and then dramatically until he embodies a character to be disgusted by. As further incidents over his 29-year-long career are revealed to us, we begin to see a disturbing, but familiar pattern emerging. Boyd in particular seems affected by the uncomfortableness of the position that the two characters are in. His attempts at polite small talk are strained at the beginning of the show, and his repeated attempts to remind LaRhonda of their personal connection feel somewhat desperate as the show progresses - as he feels LaRhonda’s growing animosity towards him. These moments are all delivered compellingly by John, serving almost to create sympathy for his character, though this is short-lived as he is soon heard bemoaning his perceived loss of status and privilege in a changing society.  



With a single table, dressed with a tape recorder and mirrors adorning the walls, the Seven Dials playhouse is transformed into a police interview room. To complement this, simple, bright, fluorescent lighting shines on the stage. 

 

To sit along the sides of the stage was immersive which only added to the intensity of the performance. However, if there was a downside to it, it is that John Coella’s character was sitting facing away from me for an extended period of time throughout the show, which felt a shame as I wasn’t able to fully appreciate the performance he was delivering. 

 

Blue is shining a light on the almost cruel irony that littered amongst those who are sworn to ‘protect and serve’ are those for whom power, and the abuse of it, are the ultimate goal. The news cycle of recent years has shown us the catastrophic consequences that result from this abuse, and Blue serves as a timely reminder of that. Blue challenges us to reject the narrative that these instances are simple cases of ‘one bad apple’ and instead, consider how the system itself is at fault. Even LaRhonda, horrified by Boyd’s actions and words, has a moment of submitting to the pressure to protect ‘one of her own’ through fear of being a ‘traitor’ to her fellow officers. It is an incredibly powerful production and an important one. A testament to impeccable theatre is its ability to stay with you - and Blue will do just that for me.

 

Blue plays at Seven Dials Playhouse until March 30th

 

For tickets and information visit https://www.sevendialsplayhouse.co.uk/shows/blue

 

Photos by Laurie Sparham

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