Each performance of Blue Heart Theatre’s relationship based plays features five short dramas where the company chooses the first three and the audience the last two. The four-piece cast’s capacity to perform any one of these plays from the pick of a hat is impressive, although the promised interactive audience participation is an anti climax: two audience members quietly rummage in the hat and choose the last two plays - if the choice is going to be part of the performance, let the whole audience be part of the process.
Couples and Pairs random assortment of ten plays is a lottery
Unless you’re going to see Couples and Pairs twice, there doesn’t seem much point to the gimmick. Maybe they’re trying to get audiences to commit to two visits to see the rest of the repertoire, but in the saturated marketplace of a fringe festival, audiences who are prepared to see the same show twice (albeit with variations) must be few and far between.
Having said that, three out of the five plays were first-rate. The opening Gun To Head was one of the weakest, unfortunately. Set in a dating agency office the pace was snappy, although both Niamh Denyer and Brian Higgins’ characters verged on caricature at times. If the actors had given more realistic performances then the writing would have brought out the humour, there were some really funny lines, but the delivery was heavy handed.
The Tearing Up of Fergal went some way to drawing the audience in, with Higgins once more playing a gay character to Mike Kunze’s ex-lover. The observations of a relationship in the throws of a break-up were highlighted in a tender and amusing way, with the acting matching the awkwardness of the situation. The couple arguing over the possession of books with the words “yours or mine?” gave a poignant resonance to the ending. It’s a pity all the books looked the same.
With First Impressions, Missed Connections the quality of the writing really ramped up with performances to match. Kunze and Denyer playing an ever improving Groundhog Day date with two chairs, a table and a bell was five minutes of brilliance. From then on, the rest of the astutely observed, cleverly written and beautifully performed plays got better and better. Joanne Ryan’s understated but OCD riddled character in Icarus was a pleasure to watch, equally matched by Denyer’s honest and sensitive portrayal of her patient lesbian lover.
The final piece, Baggage, completely captured the complexity of finding love in a Tinder dominated twenty first century with the audience letting out an audible sigh of appreciation at the sweetly sentimental conclusion.
The sometimes overlong scene changes are punctuated with music and musician Máire Carr strums and sings her way charmingly through a selection of songs with Colm Horan providing lighting effects.
Couples and Pairs random assortment of ten plays is a lottery. If you want to buy into the gimmick then you’ll probably be 60% lucky, although if the ensemble of directors, Joe Flavin, Howard Lodge, Aoife McGuire, and the producer, Sean Denyer, had chosen five plays that hit the mark then the guarantee of success would have been 100%. You can always go back and catch the ones you missed. Maybe it is a clever gimmick, after all.