A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!





Blue Surge


James Hillier and Clare Latham in Blue Surge at Finborough Theatre

Photo by Nobby Clark

by Rebecca Gilman



Directed by Che Walker


Finborough Theatre


2 - 27 August 2011


I guess I just got tired……

Curt is a small-town cop in Midwest America, thirty-eight, and due for promotion. Sandy is a massage therapist, nineteen, and three months into her job. Curt’s brief is to arrest her but he ends up wanting to help her and somewhere along the line, the two find a kind of solace in each other’s company. Doug is a cop who gets by. Heather works the same massage parlour as Sandy. Through an unlikely case of entrapment, they end up as a couple. Beth, the long-time artist girl-friend of Curt, from the upper-middle class, just wants him to secure his promotion, so they can get married.

Blue Surge  first premiered at the Goodman Theatre, in Chicago in 2001. At the Finborough, the play’s forensic look at Middle America fits the intimate space well. Designer, Georgia Lowe, uses sterile strip-lighting and functional pieces to denote place. A large white slab dominates centre-stage and functions as a massage table, desk or bar. Pieces of plasterboard frame the action on three sides.

The stage-picture is bleak but reflects the characters’ trapped conditions, haunted as they are by dysfunctional parents, and an environment of mixed messages, caught between a world of action and inactivity. Prostitutes and the cops are separated by pragmatism, not moral purpose. Everybody knows everybody: they went to the same high school. Doug’s brother Sean is busted for possession and Curt’s father robbed graves. This expediency goes some way to explaining Curt’s action at the end which is at odds with his character. 

Gilman’s skill is her craft. The dialogue is newly minted, the humour character-driven. And while there are plot elements that seem contrived, the narrative appears fresh and immediate. Director Che Walker and his cast fully explore this to create moments of super-charged drama. Scenes of calm, as in the opening between Curt and Sandy with its tranquil visualisation, contrast with the ribaldry and energy of a naked Doug as he confronts Heather ‘You don’t have to respect the man just the badge.’ Or the scenes where Curt loses his cool at the thought of losing Sandy, set against Curt and Beth’s showdown when each confronts the others’ demon. ‘You’re marrying me because you’re still looking for some way to shock your friends.’ This is thrilling to watch and perfectly pitched by James Hillier and Rebecca Coughlan.  

Claire Latham as Sandy is superb – smart and funny, with a vulnerable core. Curt and Sandy have too many barriers to overcome to head off into the sunset, yet the silent beats are loudest in Latham’s intelligent portrayal. Alexander Guiney and Kelly Burke as Doug and Heather, cleverly pull off the progress from chaotic, binge drinkers who please themselves, to a clean life and pleasing each other.  

Rebecca Gilman’s stark, compelling world is enhanced by evocative lighting design by Neill Brinkworth, and rock soundscore by Edward Lewis. The Duke Ellington Jazz threnody Blue Serge, gives the play its ironic title. Its haunting minor key resonates back to the movies of 1940’s or the brooding isolation of Hopper’s paintings. Then Blue Surge, larger than the sum of its parts, is up there with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and David Mamet in an unbroken chain of broken American dreams.

Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Sunday Matinees at 3pm.
Saturday Matinees at 3pm (from 13 August 2011)
Tickets £15/£18 with concessions for under 30s and residents of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Box Office 0844 847 1652
Finborough Theatre
118 Finborough Road
SW10 9ED

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