Olsson Theatre’s The Ride of the Bluebottles is a dark and funny play which explores the ins-and-outs of band politics. It offers us a peek behind the dressing-room door, exposing the petty bickering, clashing egos and rivalry of band life. Of course, not all bands are like this: this play lends itself well to the accusation of being stereotypical. Luckily, the witty script and knowing satire of it all is enough to redeem it from its moments of stereotype.
The setting is simple with just a chair and a guitar in the middle of the stage and this lack of gimmicks and special effects allows the acting to speak for itself. The band consists of annoying lad Darryl, Syd the loose-cannon, calm drummer Pete and George, who is ‘always a beat behind’. They play their characters well, particularly Ben Ostell as Pete, who spends most of his time lounging back on the chair, casually reading NME and wryly commenting on the behaviour of his fellow band mates.
For the most part, the script is quick, jokey and surprisingly light-hearted. The cast capture the immaturity of boys bickering and fighting which becomes, as one of the characters puts it, more like ‘aggressive hugging’. It soon descends into melodrama though and as the plot picks up, it all becomes a bit clichéd. However the characters are struggling with their own attempt to escape being a clichéd band, so there’s a chance that these moments of cliché are supposed to be deliberately satirical. The problem is that this never really becomes clear. Funny as the characters are and good as the acting is, the characters never evolve much beyond stereotypes.
The ending feels like a massive stretch of believability. Had the play been content to act as a witty look at band relations it would have stood on its own, but the attempt at a twist in the end fails to be either surprising or believable. It’s not clear if the ending is being played for laughs and is meant to be intentionally over the top, or whether it is actually meant to act as a moment of pathos. If it’s the latter then the production doesn’t quite achieve this moment - instead it feels predictable and lacks the subtlety required to pull it off.
This is an entertaining play though and an enjoyable way to kill an hour. There’s some skilful writing on display and the cast have great comedic timing which saves the play from its spiral into insane melodrama.