On Blueberry Hill Is An Absolute Thrill

On Blueberry Hill, Trafalgar Studios ★★★★☆

On Blueberry Hill Is An Absolute Thrill On Blueberry Hill, Trafalgar Studios 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

If you're hearing Fats Domino in your head, that's because the title of Sebastian Barry's play is taken from the classic hit "Blueberry Hill". It's a song about nostalgia, and for Barry's characters, two prisoners with no possible future, the past is all there is. PJ (David Ganly) and Christy (Niall Buggy) share a cell in a Dublin prison. Through interwoven monologues, their stories gradually unfold.

The show is storytelling more than drama. The two inmates never speak to each other. They address the audience instead, narrating their memories in lyrical prose that lifts the mundane to the sublime. Barry paints a vivid Ireland, rich in texture, breathtakingly beautiful and bleakly gritty. Ganly and Buggy are wonderfully in tune with the rhythms, humour, and tragedy of their distinctive monologues. But language is undeniably the star of the show.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Director Jim Culleton gives Barry's words space to shine unencumbered. A sparse set and dim lighting facilitate the hypnotic quality of the storytelling. Culleton allows Barry's adagio tempo to set the pace; carefully placed puzzle pieces slowly reveal PJ and Christy's crimes, and the dark connection between them. While the script could stand to kill a few more darlings for a tighter runtime, the exquisite writing makes it difficult not to forgive some self-indulgence.

As the story escalates into melodrama, increasingly preposterous, it's important to remember the magical unreality of the piece. It prioritises poetry over practicality. Barry pulls us into a heady world, vibrant and tactile, but no more reliable than memory itself.

On Blueberry Hill, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, SW1A 2DY. Until 2 May

Last Updated 12 March 2020