“I thought I could pay for something a little extra…”
Opening with a pair of botched raids on a massage parlour suspected of offering additional services, the Finborough’s latest UK premiere – that of Rebecca Gilman’s Blue Surge – bustles with relationships between cops and hookers, discussions about the American class system and exploring whether you can ever truly escape your past. Set in a mid-sized Midwestern city in the recent past, Curt is a hard-working honourable cop, who with his doofus of a partner Doug was responsible for ballsing up the raids and thus potentially jeopardising a promotion. They both find themselves drawn to two of the workers they encountered there though and whilst Doug falls into a relationship with the ditzy Heather, Curt tries to play the knight in shining armour and rescue Sandy, with whom he feels a great affinity, putting both his job and his relationship with fiancée Beth severely at risk.
For Beth is middle-class and choosing to slum it as an artist and Curt finds it impossible to really connect with her as he is from a solidly working-class background , his upbringing close to the poverty line and continuing, he believes, to shape his life even now. Connecting with Sandy, who reveals a similarly broken childhood which has directly resulted in her career choice, he sees a kindred spirit despite the 20 year age gap and a quirky relationship of sorts starts to grow between them. But whilst he wants to rescue her, she doesn’t actually want rescuing and so good-intentioned as he is, Curt’s actions threaten to jeopardise everything.
Blue Surge is largely effective at its portrayal of lonely souls clutching at the possibility of real way out, aided by some excellent acting. James Hillier oozes a raw masculine sexuality as Curt, almost haunted by his decency and unable to believe that things could ever really be different for him, and connecting beautifully with Clare Latham’s Sandy, an Ellen Page-like performance of quirky normality, a matter-of-factness about her situation and what she has to do to get through life. The only real drawback is in the way that Gilman writes here for her characters. She endows them with an occasional sense of erudite self-awareness which whilst being extremely revelatory, simply doesn’t ring true as realistic dialogue: it even comes close to hampering the emotional intensity of the acting at times.
Samantha Coughlan’s Beth is also a victim of this underdeveloped characterisation, seeming more of a vessel for parroting the playwright’s words, but there’s great comic work from a goofy Alexander Guiney and a cracking Kelly Burke as Doug and Heather who manage to find the connection with each other, displaying a lovely emotional growth by the end and suggesting that there is a way through it all. Ché Walker’s production works well in Georgia Lowe’s simply designed set, excerpts of melancholy jazz and Americana enlivening scene changes and though one may question the effectiveness of the writing at times at really locating the emotional heart of the work, there is much else to commend this piece of engaging, and frequently very amusing, theatre.