The Hope Theatre
Blue Balloons Pink opens with Maggie (Daisy Roe) and Ash (Ruaridh Aldington) in their living room, preparing for their baby’s gender reveal party. Well, Ash is, but it is obvious that Maggie is less keen and appears to be swigging alcohol regularly so you suspect she may be in denial.
As the performance gets underway it becomes clear that Ash is more than a little controlling. Initially you assume he’s just someone that is organised and likes to plan, but gradually his volatile character is revealed as someone who is extremely manipulative and toxic. He chooses what Maggie wears and has planned her pregnancy carefully, down to how she should sit and when her medical appointments are. An undercurrent of menace creeps in and there are audible gasps from members of the audience as he instructs Maggie on what she can and cannot do. Although a two‑hander, other voices are woven effectively into the dialogue, using text messages from Ash’s mother, for example, to reinforce the suffocation that Maggie is experiencing.
This is a subtle and clever script, further enhanced by very strong performances from both actors. A feeling of peril and unspoken threat is advanced throughout the piece until the very end, when there cannot be a member of the audience who isn’t inwardly willing Maggie to flee for her safety and sanity. The natural trajectory of the relationship is reinforced by a series of flashbacks to more carefree scenes in the couple’s history – not easy to do in an intimate space with no change of set – but these work well and are a testament to the couple’s acting ability. As the plot develops it becomes obvious that a revelation is to come, but the ending is a genuine surprise. It is simultaneously horrific and instructive, showing how gaslighting and bullying under the guise of an intimate and seemingly loving relationship develops almost imperceptibly, and why the person being bullied feels trapped and powerless.
Composers Joel Oldham and Anna Foye have written some exquisitely haunting music, which complement this piece beautifully. The effect is poignant. Set designer Lucy White has used the small space well, with enough props to support the action but not so many that they overwhelm the set. In particular, entrances and exits are used effectively.
The running time of the piece was billed as an hour, but live it took an hour and 20 minutes, which felt too long. Some of the content, particularly the earlier scenes between the couple, could have been edited to make the piece crisper. Nonetheless, this is a disturbing and graphic account of the subtlety of psychological manipulation and non-physical bullying and it worked well, genuinely moving the audience.
Written by: Daisy Roe
Directed by: Miranda Kingsley
Produced by: Juvenile Behaviour Theatre
Blue Balloons Pink plays at The Hope Theatre until 27 August. Further information and bookings can be found here.