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BLISS: It's all about death, first love & rock music

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…"

What have the past few weeks been like for you
It feels like we've stepped off the planet and into another world. We've been rehearsing full on for the past 5 weeks - basically 6 days a week, 12 hours a day. Rehearsals have been out at Lyttelton in a freezing cold barn of a place. To be honest, we're kinda getting really sick of each other!
Bryony: I'm really missing outside life - my boyfriend and friends… even school (Cashmere High)
James: Nah, I'm lovin' it. Especially the no school part (Lincoln)
How did you get the parts
Our drama teachers told us about it and told us to go and audition. We got the scripts, learnt the lines and songs, got the call back and then… well, got the parts! We've both got musical backgrounds and both of us are Ambassadors for the Court Theatre so maybe that helped as well.
Has it been hard to play a couple who are "crazily in love"
James: We've actually known each other for ages and I was madly in love with her at one time but gave up coz it was definitely a one way thing but I can kinda remember how it felt back then.
(He grins and digs his co-star in the ribs and she replies very firmly):
I just think of my boyfriend
Bryony Matthews and James BeckIt sounds like it's been pretty intense though
Bryony: I guess. There were a couple of times when I burst into tears because it really got to me.
James: And what about the time you kneed me in the balls and gave me a bleeding nose? Plus, she's always telling me to shut up.
Bryony: Only because of the build-up and not really with you. It was Jimmy. When you're in your character and knowing what's coming up it's difficult not to lose your
temper and get real snappy. It affected us both though.
James: Yeah, there's been some tension and outbursts and stuff and my family are sick to death of Jimmy! It's hard to get out of character.
How did you manage to get 'into' your roles? Have you studied other similar plays or movies
James: Not really. When I'm acting I tend to draw from personal experience and emotions. I work everything from the inside and get very introspective, even to the point where I don't hear the director's instructions because I'm so busy thinking about what my character would be doing. The young Jimmy I could really relate to - he's out there and pretty open but the older version of Jimmy is a pretty weird guy and kinda hard to play. He's not at all like me. He's withdrawn, depressed and
full of regret. But one things' for sure, I've learnt more about myself over the past five weeks than at any other time in my life.
Bryony: I'm the complete opposite. I don't work from the inside. I analyse the part and work out how to play it and then somehow just do it.
Is it a traditional musical
Nope, not at all. No-one leaps up and bursts into song. They just kinda happen along the way. It's called rock music with naturalism.
What have you enjoyed most
The intensity of it all, living and breathing it. It's not like school productions where you have to fit rehearsals in. And it's all so … professional. Plus it's great to actually get paid!
And when it's all over …
Bryony: I want to carry on acting and singing but I can't wait to get back to normal life and school and stuff
James: I just want to go on acting. Right at this moment I don't even want to think about having to get back to study
What three words would you use to describe yourself
Bryony: Upfront - ummmm - trusting and melodramatic
James: Intense. Analytical. Fun
And the best thing in your life right now
Bryony: My boyfriend, Michael
James: Wilco, the band. And Nicole…

From our Pulse Teen Reviewer Kelly from Linwood College:

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.

BlissBliss 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.

August 2004