Now in its thirteenth year, Camden Fringe has become something of a highlight for any fan of the London theatre scene; on or off the west end. Featuring three-hundred performances across nearly twenty-venues, it’s gained a reputation as an exciting home of inventive and creative theatre. One of these venues is the Etcetera theatre, housed above the Oxford Arms on Camden High Street. A wonderfully intimate space that is known as a home of diverse and original entertainment it’s the home of the London Horror Festival, has been called one of London’s ‘Great pub theatres’ by The Guardian. Perhaps more importantly, it also happens to be one of the founding theatres of the fringe itself. This year one of the performances their housing is ‘Blue’, the first production by ‘Sycorax Collective’ and being the Whovian I am, that name alone immediately had me hooked (yes my mind still goes straight to The Christmas Invasion- Shakespeare reference or not!). Doctor Who referencing company aside, Blue should be of interest to readers of this site as it uses a Science Fiction, fairy tale-esque plot to tell a wonderfully touching story about mental health issues.
Blue is the story of….well ‘Blue’ a young woman who lives on the moon with her pet Lobster ‘Spock’. Using a ‘Cbeebies’ esque voiceover who explains Blue’s life to us, the first half shows Blue as a character who could of stepped right out of a children’s programme in the vein of Mr. Tumble. She spends the day collecting star-dust, fishing and playing with Spock. The genius here though is that even between all the laughs and audience participation, we are immediately made aware that something is not…quite right. Dialogue such as ‘To make the world sparkle and hide the darkness in her mind’ is wonderfully secreted in an otherwise fun and gentle moment. What’s wonderful is that Kim Scopes, who performed the role of Blue, also wrote the piece. It’s clearly a passion project for her and she does herself and her colleagues immensely proud, channelling a range of emotions in a brief space of time. In particular the final five minutes or so is incredibly powerful and Scopes really throws herself into what must have been a very challenging role. Directed by Holli Dillon, the two work wonders together and I imagine they’ll be two to watch out for in the future.
Set design is, due to the nature of the performance and theatre, simple but in its simplicity lies its genius. Blues moon based ‘fort’ fits in with the childish, frivolous world of the story but the surrounding black drapes with tiny glowing lights (representing stars) hint at something darker. Even the stars on the backdrop appear to have been in the shape of a smiley face, further pushing the theme of forced happiness. And the Science Fiction? Well in the plays brief run-time we get to hear the classic Howell version of the Who theme, various Star Trek gags (including a rather brilliant waving joke) and Rock Horror references amongst others. Whilst all this certainly amused me, the real joy was in the poignant way the plays message was delivered. As I left the theatre I heard someone state that for anyone who had ever suffered mental health problems, the piece ‘really got what it felt like’. I think that’s the best compliment any artist can get.