Writer Peter Hamilton, who has had several plays produced on the London Fringe, is premiering his dark comedy Blue – about the quest for spiritual meaning in a modern secular and cynical age – at London’s White Bear Theatre from 12-23 July 2022.
A first-class cast will feature in the playwright’s fifth collaboration with director Ken McClymont: Max Davidson (Tom Greaves), Stephen Omer (George), Julia Tarnoky (Megan), Emma Stannard (Frances) and Lara Ciulli (Sareen).
As they career towards their forties Max and Frances Davidson, a chaotic couple from Bethnal Green, have reached crisis point. Frances, a creative weaver, is convinced (wrongly) that she has MS and is also deeply troubled by a large blue square which keeps involuntarily intruding into her work.
Meanwhile her husband Max, a manic, unbalanced architect, finds respite in a panoply of prescription drugs, washed down with unhealthy amounts of vintage Armagnac. Max is also obsessed with ‘New Age’ writings such as Theosophy – a form of philosophical or religious thought based on a mystical insight.
From his academic readings he comes to realise that he is a direct descendant of the biblical King David of Israel and Judea and that he is on earth with a special mission to build the Third Temple of Jerusalem… in Glastonbury.
Into this troubled household comes Sareen, a young Armenian refugee with shamanistic powers and ambitions to become… an architect!
Presented by Clockschool Theatre Company Peter Hamilton’s new play Blue plays at London’s White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE1 4DJ from 12-23 July 2022. The performance runs without an interval. Performances run from Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm. Tickets are £16 (Concessions £12). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE
In conversation with Peter Hamilton
Playwright Peter Hamilton’s plays produced on the London Fringe include Switchboard (Latchmere), Danelaw (White Bear), Skara Brae (White Bear), Playground (Old Red Lion) and Bridlington (Rosemary Branch).
Can you explain more about how the idea came about for Blue?
The original title for the play was That Other Thing and it came from a feature article I read in the Daily Telegraph about 15 years ago. In the article a nun at a convent in Wales was interviewed about how she had found her vocation. She was a very-well educated middle-class Englishwoman who had read English at Oxford, where, she commented, she had enjoyed life “to the full. But there was always this other thing”. This is what first caught my attention because this is what it’s like, the religious awareness. It’s something there at the back of the mind all the time, lurking in the shadows and you know it’s going to come and get you one of these days.
Also, one day I was listening to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4, and there was an interview with a young black Afro-British woman who was a creative weaver. She had been born and brought up in south London but her ethnic origin was East African (I think it might have been Masai). She described how, on graduating from Camberwell Art School her weaving had gone well for a while, but then inspiration dried. After some striving, she eventually revived her work by returning to her African roots and the tradition of weaving tribal history and stories.
This also struck a note with me: creativity flourishes from a connection to deep roots; it’s not something to be endlessly dredged up from the individual. And about this time I met a painter who lived in a terraced cottage in Bethnal Green, which he had restored himself and done a very good job. Homes always draw me; the idea of restoring old buildings like mills and dovecotes, warehouses and small castles and living in them.
I had also spent quite a few years reading ‘New Age’ and other religious literature: Alice A Bailey, who first coined the phrase ‘New Age’, Theosophy, Gurdjieff and a rather sinister book called Holy Blood/Holy Grail, as well as The Bhagavad Gita, Confessions of St Augustine (“Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee”). Although I am now a practising Roman Catholic (I converted in 1992) I still find Hinduism and Buddhism a vital source.
I can’t remember how ‘blue’ took over, it just seemed to float in, but to me it is an image of the Infinite, of Outer Space. It’s possible it came from the books of Alice A Bailey, which are all published in plain midnight-blue covers. Anyway, once it had arrived I discovered the blue of the painter Yves Klein as well.
You tackle dark themes in the play, how do you bring the laughs to such serious matters too?
I do like trying to make people laugh and I love the absurd and I find humour in unexpectedly formal speech. (I think I acquired this from Joe Orton.)
What was the process like in the rehearsal room with the cast and creatives?
As for the rehearsal process this was, somewhat to my surprise, very satisfying and exciting. At first, I was going to disappear from it all, but the cast seemed to find this odd, which it is, but I’ve always thought actors didn’t like writers around. Anyway, I changed my mind and decided to be there this time and it was very fruitful.
Together, we discovered more and more layers to the characters and the scenes and I relished that alchemy that happens between actors and the words on the page as they make it all their own. It was also very fortuitous because Ken went down with Covid in the second week so I had to take over as director. One day I would like to be in a situation where I can workshop plays more and see what happens.
In my previous work with Ken I’ve always withdrawn and let him get on with it; it just seemed right this time to be more involved. Ken is a very experienced and subtle director, unobtrusive but watchful and intensely focused and he gives people a lot of space to explore. He is never dogmatic but listens carefully.
When did you establish the Clockschool Theatre Company and what has been its aims?
Clockschool Theatre Company started out as Upstart Crow TC in 1985 as a children’s theatre company, simply to provide us with work. In 1987 I went to Drama Studio London to study acting and someone rang me up and asked me if they could have the title now. My first play Switchboard was accepted by Brian Daniels at the New End Theatre, Hampstead and was staged at the Grace Theatre at the Latchmere but after that I had to put them on myself.
I came up with the name because The Clock School is a well-known infants school in Armley, Leeds which I attended as a child. The company has never been anything other than a way of getting my own work on, which is rooted in my early years in Armley and Headingley, Leeds.
In a nutshell, why should audiences see Blue?
In a nutshell, I would like people to go and see Blue because, in all the current madness and violence of the world, I hope that it might remind them of the sureness and eternal stability of the spiritual realm, that God is on our side, that we are all on a great journey of souls, and that, as it says in the GITA: “Whenever there is a withering of the Law and an uprising of lawlessness on all sides, then I manifest Myself.”