With only three white chairs and a monochrome backdrop of a non-descript tower block, the staged reading of The Blue Blue Sea manages to conjure a tangible and depressive world through speech alone, reflecting the strength of Nis Momme Stockmann’s writing in this bare boned performance. Combined with the brilliantly sharp deliverance of the three actors, David Judge, Katie West, and Reuben Johnson — they give life to such a well-crafted script.
The protagonist Darko (Judge) is a deeply troubled young man and alcoholic who is shackled to his council estate but is fascinated by the stars that hang above it, though these he swears are impossible to see here. When he meets Motte (West) the estate’s teenage prostitute, equally as fixated on the blue blue sea of Norway, the pair do not so much as fall hopefully in love, but form a deep connection based on the flickering of hope they see in one another.
Motte, or moth in English, is attracted by the paradoxical light of Darko, though amid the darkness of their estate, this is not enough to save them. Nor is it enough to save Darko’s friend Ulrika, abused by her father, and literally pushed over the edge of one of the tower blocks by despair. But the play severs all false sentimentality with Darko’s bitter speech about the suffering of the rest of his neighbours, jabbing his finger at various anonymous windows in the backdrop.
We understand then that tragedy is nothing new to the estate, as common as the grey slate, the drug dealers and the ‘German and Russian kids spitting on the Turkish’.
The Blue Blue Sea is performed as part of HOME’s Berlin Now festival, and we can see subtle hints to this infamous city through David Tushingham’s clever translation; the ‘screen’ on Darko’s train refers to the looped newsreel on the Berliner Fenster of the U-Bahn, or ‘underground’ as the translation uses, effectively universalising the play.
This could very well be London, or even Manchester given Judge’s thick accent. His closing plea of ‘This isn’t Africa or South America. This is Germany, Motte’ comes as a minor shock as we are reminded of the play’s setting, though the situation of the characters is so recognisable to us, it only drives home the message of the ubiquitous nature of social disenfranchisement even in the world’s wealthiest countries.
The play’s bleak tone is broken occasionally by the comedic timing of Johnson who plays a series of chorus characters, switching effortlessly between Darko’s perpetually inebriated sidekick, a walking example of the apex of alcoholism, and a typically no-nonsense German security guard, representative of apathetic authority.
However, moments of tenderness do manage to puncture the desolation: one particularly touching scene occurs where Motte nonchalantly strips her clothes to reveal the scars on her back. ‘They’re beautiful’ marks Darko, with the surety that comes with stating a fact. But sadly the love of the young couple cannot compete against the ‘machine’ of the estate, and the blue blue sea is never glimpsed but remains for them forever a mirage.