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  • Desola Olaleye

Bluets: Unconventional Storytelling

Like Carole Maso, I have grown tired of conventional storytelling: “The analytic bits, the dreary descriptive impulse, the cause and effect linearity, the manufactured social circumstances.” These contrived elements quench the fire of life. They conceal its mess, its incoherence and incompleteness. In a world of textbook theatrics, Margaret Perry’s unusual adaptation of Bluets honours Maggie Nelson’s experimental prose, a genre-defying collection of 240 meditations inspired by the colour blue. Currently showing in London’s Royal Court theatre, this play is not a rehearsal of a fixed narrative about life and love. There is no narrative. There is only the urgency of blue, the need to recognise and grapple with the insatiable longings that pervade human life. To borrow the words of Carole Maso, Bluets does not “tyrannize with narrative.” It gives spectators the room to live and dream. To suspend borrowed aspirations. To explore tinctures of blue in their own existence. To dive into the boundless sea of blue, searching for light.


Like Nelson’s Bluets which is devoid of predictability, Perry’s adaptation is not propped by dialogue that promises to illuminate a plot. It does not present a host of protagonists with flaws and lessons about redemption. There are no trite spiels about walking a straight line. The colour blue is the sole character here. Uncertainty, the only message. As Nelson writes, “blue has no mind. It is not wise, nor does it promise any wisdom.” There is no singular meaning of blue. No full feeling of blue. Bluets—both the book and play—pull me into the confounding depths of the colour blue. A colour that soothes yet seethes with melancholy. In the play, the contrasting hues of blue are exemplified by a cleaved monologue where Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle share the colossal task of giving voice to Nelson’s agonising reflections about depressive episodes, a love triangle and a friend who, following a ghastly accident, must now tackle life from a wheelchair. The duty of the audience is not to merge the trio’s fragmented articulations and transport them into realms of coherence. Instead, we attend to subtle variations in their voicings. How a line is first uttered with the same conviction and spirit of the gospel, yet its remaining words are verbalised as questions and interrogations. These dramatic compositions are orchestrated by Katie Mitchell, a committed student of Konstantin Stanislavski who foregrounded the art of lived experience. Through Mitchell’s direction of Perry’s adaptation of Bluets, light falls constantly on objects enveloped in blue. There is an excess of blue. A barrage of blue. The stage crew moves swiftly across the cluttered stage, continuously swapping trays of props needed by the trio. Whishaw, D’Arcy and Meikle rely on objects such as whisky bottles, cigarettes, sandwiches, laptops and pillows to depict the everchanging temperaments that suffuse Nelson’s Bluets. Throughout the play, the three actors amend their clothing, inhabiting a combination of cheerful and blackened blue garments. The rapidly moving parts of the play are an assault on the senses. For Mitchell, it cannot be left unsaid: blue is a demanding colour.


Bluets raises questions and coyly presents half-answers if you’ll take them. The colour blue is not easy to place. Perry’s modification of Nelson’s Bluets is unorthodox. Mitchell’s direction of the play is complicated and unsettled. In this sense, the play agrees with Nelson’s writing. Both mirror life’s obscurity. Nelson says of darkness that we cannot read it: “It is a form of madness, albeit a common one, that we try.” The theatrical rendition of Bluets, though somewhat opaque, offers new ways of seeing, of experiencing the dramas of life.



At Royal Court theatre until 29 June 2024.

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