The media blurb describes Bliss as extraordinary, passionate, innovative and gut-wrenching. It doesn't stop there either … how about horrific, shocking and deeply upsetting? We were there on opening night and can confirm quite categorically that this production completely lives up to its publicity spiel!
Earlier on in the week though we spoke to Bryony Matthews (17) and James Beck (18) who auditioned their way through to get the parts of Maddie and Jimmy - "Maddie is a beautiful and innocent 17 year old who's been scarred by a brutal lover but now that she's found Jimmy her life looks set to turn around. They both need to escape the restraints of their lives and so they head for the coast in a stolen car. But along the way they pick up a mysterious hitcher who warns them against going on because it will only end in disaster…"
I went into the Court Theatre completely unprepared for Bliss. Apart from the brief description I had seen that said "death, love and rock and roll collide to create Bliss", I was clueless as to what to expect. And I think that is part of what made Bliss so effective and, as a critic said when Bliss debuted in Edinburgh, gut wrenching. Because of this I don't want to give too much away about the play. But there are some things I will say.
I will say that Bliss is a Tragedy. It is a story about two teenagers, Maddy (Bryony Matthews) and Jimmy (James Beck), who are in love. They hit the road to travel to the sea and on their travels they pick up a mysterious hitch hiker (Andy Duerden) who warns them to turn back, but of course Maddy and Jimmy don't listen to him. Dispersed throughout the play are rock and roll songs that I think fit perfectly into the story. Most of the songs are sung by Andy Duerden who is also the Musical Director and Composer. His voice is so powerful and raw, it really captures the meaning of love and rock and roll that the play is trying to convey.
I will also say that the roles of Maddy and Jimmy are played with passion and are both very convincing. The fact that Matthews and Beck are both teenagers, and this is their first professional role makes their performances even more impressive. The pair work together so well, I was left totally convinced that Maddy and Jimmy were absolutely in love. Even in their arguments you could feel that the characters still cared deeply for one another.
I recommend Bliss to anyone who has been in love or wants to understand the inexplicable and controlling feeling that is love. Or anyone who already understands how powerful rock and roll can be and how it can almost be like love. So really, I think I am recommending this to everyone! But I think that Bliss is aimed at people in their late teens or above, because there are some shocking scenes that make the audience gasp and leave them shocked. But that might be saying to much so I think I should stop there.
Personally speaking I've always found Court 2 to be a bit of a challenge - you can't help but get up close and personal to those around you. (If the gentleman sitting in front of me on opening night is reading this - I apologise for the hefty knee blow to your right shoulder). And the seats have a tendency to get harder by the minute so that I'm usually wriggling around halfway through any performance in an effort to find a soft spot. That said, all credit must go to those involved in this production because the only thing that interrupted my concentration was a terrible fit of coughing that took me out of the theatre - in retrospect, this might not have been a bad thing as I missed the scene I probably wouldn't have been able to watch anyway … it's the one that has me empathising totally with Bryony for giving 'Jimmy' a bloody nose and knee job. The shocked disbelief from the female contingent in the audience was almost palpable as Jimmy deserted Maddie - emotionally and physically.
Bliss is a gruelling journey, interspersed with some wonderful moments of humour - Jimmy and Maddie's rendition of the good ol' country classic Stand By Your Man is delightful … and a welcome relief from the underlying tension that steadily mounts as the play progresses. It is an experience to see Maddie's face reflect her emotions so succinctly … swinging from reckless, carefree teenage abandon to a tragic sadness way beyond her years. And then there's young Jimmy who blunders his inexperienced way through one situation after another until there's no turning back and your heart aches for him.
The set is stark. The theatre is tiny. But the acting is superb, the music evocative and I was engrossed - and, to me, that's what the best drama is all about.