The Streaming Experience: Fishamble’s On Blueberry Hill
“Half the pleasure in life is not thinking about things too much,” we are told, but somewhere along the pathway to this “new kingdom of experience“, I found myself unable to shake the push and the stab of this bullseye on life. I previously had the pleasure of seeing playwright Sebastian Barry’s compellingly lyrical play, On Blueberry Hill when Fishamble brought it to Origin Theatre’s 1st Irish Festival presented at NYC’s 59E59 Theaters in January of 2019. Both simple but epic, the play dug its way into my soul, as it was, and still is, one of the most fascinating and well crafted stories inflicted with the pain of tragedy, love, forgiveness and the unexplainable art of connection.
Although the virtual run, connected and in partnership with the wonderful 59E59 Theaters, has ending (on August 10th), the play, which is also available on Audible, is now running on the Traverse Theatre’s virtual platform from August 10th until the 16th as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2021 and the Culture Ireland Showcase. Directed by Fishamble’s Jim Culleton, the play, bursting with an extraordinary amount of humanity and compassion, roughly explores the idea of revenge, passion, forgiveness, and survival, parcelled out most beautifully in authentic slices of classic conversational storytelling. Throwing themselves off one another like an expert game of hot potato, the experts at the play’s core build a narrative that is both utterly engaging and emotionally complex. It plays a tough game, navigating such a beautifully written piece of intense theatre, basking in its rich Irish Catholic roots, and in the end, delivering so much more than just a two fisted punch to the gut.
Stitched inside the play’s dueling monologue structure, the honesty that floats forward from these two seasoned actors, the same two that I saw in 2019 at 59E59, form an effortless grace and connection to our universal humanity. Barry (The Pride of Parnell Street), one of Ireland’s finest playwrights, climbs up the winding path to unearth the ideals of love and forgiveness, and plunges it forward into the murky waters of Ireland’s coast. The fall is ferocious in it’s heart-felt intensity, with the push as means to discover how this all will affect these two fatherless men, played strongly and sincerely by David Ganly (Donmar London’s Aristocrats) as the young PJ and Niall Buggy (MTC/Crucible’s Translations) as the older Christy. The two delicately find their way through, fluctuating between pain and happiness, as they dutifully confess their stories of love, desire, and companionship. Poetically eternal to bear witness to, half the pleasure comes from their dynamic and engaging delivery, while the other lies strongly in the dense sweet storytelling of paternal love smashing head first into the rocky passionate love of young innocence, an emotional stance that the Irish Catholic faith, for some archaic reason, can not tolerate.
The cell and the simple costumes, designed by Sabine Dargent (Abbey Theatre’s Sive), with very precise lighting by Mark Galione (Fishamble’s Spinning), and sound design by Denis Clohessy (Fishamble’s Silent) sit solidly in the center of the streamed and filmed stage, courtesy of film director Francois Gray. The structure leaves no room for escape for the two souls sentenced. They inhabit the center stage bunk bed like caged but patient animals, vibrating with the honest intent to fall, like a wounded bird through the cold biting wind and air to the sharp rocks below. The two find their way, most freely, to pull us magnificently in using their sweet sing-song Irish brogue that trembles and flits across the void, keeping us firmly searching their engaging eyes for clues where the two pathways are leading and how they will eventually cross.
A young man’s love for another, another one’s love for his soon-to-be wife and son, and the third being the love for a son’s mother, all existing exquisitely and are shared quietly between the two. And then it clicks, in an instant with a subtle but heart-breaking thrust, stabbing forth a tale that binds these two in a lifetime of hate, rage, repentance, and forgiveness. Even when the tidal waves of coincidence crash together with a force of God-less power, the bonding is real and the pain is deep. All the back and forths have worked their magic on us, thanks to the extremely grounded work of its two compelling actors and Culleton, On Blueberry Hill‘s talented director and Fishamble‘s artistic director. Through their informed pain, we stay glued to the wind-swept path to the cliff, feeling the harsh winds of a man’s passion, his “strange little wickedness,” and internal self-hatred claw as painfully at our skin as it does on to his, and theirs. We experience the anger, the outrage, the confusion, and the loving care of forgiveness as it washes over. “Why is that all so fuckin’ marvelous?”, he asks, but it truly is, because what freedom is found On Blueberry Hill is utterly sharp and unforgettably sublime.
Following its West End and Off-Broadway runs, Olivier Award winning Fishamble presents On Blueberry Hill, by current Laureate for Irish Fiction, and Costa Novel of the Year Award winner, Sebastian Barry. The show will be available from Tue August 10th until 23:59 on Mon 16 Aug. After purchase, you will have 48 hours to watch the show. To book your “Pay What You Can” ticket, click here.
Fishamble is funded by the Arts Council and Culture Ireland.