Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Harry Burton: Blue On Blue

By | Published on Thursday 14 April 2016


The latest production scheduled to open over at Tristan Bates Theatre is Chips Hardy’s ‘Blue On Blue’, a piece about a wounded army veteran who is living in a small flat with his highly strung nephew, which features among its small cast an actual wounded army veteran.
To find out more about the play I spoke to the director, all round creative and film-maker Harry Burton.

CM: Tell us about ‘Blue On Blue’. What’s the story and who are the central characters?
HB: The territory of the play is a relationship triangle. Gulf War veteran Moss was severely wounded in action by the catastrophic cock-up known as ‘friendly fire’ (‘Blue on Blue’ in the trade). Moss has taken pity on his highly-strung, on-probation nephew, Carver, and they’re sharing Moss’s tiny council flat. Carver has his own mental health challenges. Into this claustrophobic, dysfunctional and uncompromisingly masculine world comes a young health-worker, Marta. Good intentions lead to questionable decisions; relationships turn volatile; difficult consequences become unavoidable.

CM: What themes does the play explore? Does it have particular points to make, political, or otherwise?
HB: Moss lost both his legs in the friendly fire incident, so one unavoidable theme is life in a wheelchair, and for a veteran at that – a man of action reduced to a life of severe physical restriction. The relationship between Moss and his nephew Carver – the one with his disability challenges, the other with mental health issues – means we’re in the presence of two men living at very close quarters with major insecurities and no real emotional language with which to express their vulnerability. That’s universal subject matter, and audiences will relate. And into all of this walks Marta, a bright but naïve young woman who definitely has to have her wits about her when dealing with these two blokes. Any political points the play contains are really about how power is used as a weapon between people compelled to live in close relationship.

CM: As a director, what attracted you to the piece? What made you want to direct it?
HB: The writing in ‘Blue on Blue’ is right up my street. Chips Hardy is a terrific craftsman with strong connections to a certain kind of very British comedy – think ‘Steptoe & Son’, ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, ‘Til Death Us Do Part’, ‘Only Fools and Horses’. Chips revels in patter humour, funny lines that come out of the tension between people going through a crisis. On top of that, there’s a very strong, clear story in ‘Blue on Blue’. I’m always attracted to plays where comedy comes out of the tension between characters.The audience leans into the play, wanting to know what the hell’s going to happen next.

CM: Tell us about the cast; one member is an army veteran, isn’t he? Have his experiences brought an extra depth to the project, do you think?
HB: No question about it. Swifty (actor Darren Swift who plays Moss) lost his legs to an IRA coffee jar bomb while he was serving in Northern Ireland. The authenticity he brings is compelling, to say the least. He’s a remarkable bloke: a skydiver, a ski instructor and a competitive snowboarder. Swifty does more with no legs than the rest of us do with all our legs put together. That fighting spirit is what you need in any acting company, and we’re lucky to have him.

Daniel Gentely is playing Carver, and Ida Bonnast is Marta, the health-worker. All three together combine to create an intense believability in what is essentially a naturalistic piece of theatre. With a play like this believability is vital, so that the audience buys into the story and forgets their lives for ninety minutes.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the writer, Chips Hardy? Has he been much involved in the production?
HB: Chips is currently involved in producing, writing and generally overseeing ‘Taboo’, a big new BBC TV production he has co-created with Tom Hardy (his son), and Stephen Knight (creator of ‘Peaky Blinders’). So we’ve not seen much of him, and that shows a lot of trust in our rehearsals. But Chips watched our first stagger-through yesterday, and afterwards gave us lots of notes and plenty of encouragement. When a writer watches a run-through and says he recognises the play he wrote, the whole enterprise grows in confidence. That’s where we are as I write, with ten days until we present the play to a paying audience.

CM: What can we expect from the post show discussions that have been scheduled? Who will be involved with those?
HB: There’s a gala on 28 Apr for BLESMA, the charity for limbless veterans. That will bring in an audience who share and identify with Moss’s experience of life-changing injury, which is bound to be reflected in the post-show discussions. And the mental health charities MIND and HARMLESS are also coming along for a post-show panel with BLESMA, on Tuesday 3 May, since the play also deals with issues around self-harm and the healing process of rehabilitation. I think these conversations will be rich and revealing. The fact that ‘People, Places and Things’ is such a hit up the road at Wyndham’s tells us that the culture is ready to have much more open exchanges about the pressures of modern life, and the various ways people are living alongside psycho-spiritual crisis.

CM: What’s next for you?
HB: A number of irons are in the fire – but what I long to do more than anything is get back to film-making.

‘Blue On Blue’ is on at Tristan Bates Theatre from 19 Apr-14 May. See this page here for details and to book.

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