Pros: Richard Canal delivers an accomplished performance, executing this one-man show with an honesty that encourages genuine self-reflection among its audience.
Cons: A lack of consistent rhythm, and its measured pace – though at times very fitting – would benefit from variation.
Cry, Blueberry is, in many ways, a play of endings. The year is 1932, and the misery of the Great Depression has hammered in the final nail of Vaudeville’s coffin; the conversion of New York’s Palace Theatre into a cinema. The loss of the most celebrated vaudevillian venue of its day is the death knell for an entertainment genre for which the bell began tolling some twenty years earlier, with the advent of widely available cheap cinema. For Blueberry, an earnest clown whose own career is now surely over, it is a time for frank reflection: he is about to take his audience on a journey through three decades of his troubled past, from a repressive upbringing in Mississippi to this lonely dressing room backstage at The Palace.
The atmosphere in the play’s opening minutes is tense almost to the point of being uncomfortable. As Isaac Solomon Leow, the man behind Blueberry the clown (and played with considerable depth by Richard Canal), begins to deliver his morose and measured recounting, it is clear that the heartbeat of the Roaring Twenties has long since “ceased to beat”. Expressing both warmth and melancholy, the steady pace of the delivery doesn’t shift as much as it might as the play progresses, and its slow speed holds it back.
The vignettes of Leow’s past – his relationship with his father, memories of his best friend, his first adventures in clowning – offer opportunities for the mouthpiece of the Twenties to roar, but they are too often not taken advantage of. Moments of brilliance both in writing and performance are smothered by a script which at times feels over-written, saturated by similes and verbose description. Neither in the dressing room nor in the multiple flashback sequences does the quickened pulse of the 1920s ever really establish itself. The tone of the piece is one of almost unrelenting gloom.
However, there are times when Cry, Blueberry is very affecting. The stripped back set provides the perfect backdrop for the play, with a desolate oak tree looming on the dimly lit stage – a reminder, perhaps, of the ghosts of a past from which Isaac Solomon Leow has never truly escaped. Canal’s impressive performance is full of grace and honesty; I found it impossible not to reflect on my own experiences, as the clown in front of me stripped off his makeup and poured his heart out to the audience.
Ultimately, Cry, Blueberry is an engaging, open, and bleak play, which in its exploration of one character’s sadness invites its audience to reflect on their own. For aren’t we each guilty of putting our own masks on, to disguise our innermost feelings? Though the immortal lyrics of Smokey Robinson inevitably come to mind – “But don’t let my glad expression, Give you the wrong impression, Really I’m sad, Oh I’m sadder than sad” – the tears of this clown are plain for us to see. Perhaps they make it easier to shed our own.
Written and Performed by: Richard Canal
Booking Until: 19 January 2018
Box Office: 020 7258 2925
Booking Link: https://tickets.thecockpit.org.uk/sales/shows/cry-blueberry#book