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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Above Me The Wide Blue Sky
Young Vic Theatre Spring 2013

Above Me the Wide Blue Sky is, apparently, part theatre and part art installation. Unfortunately, it lacks the tension and depth that the usual trappings of theatre provide it with – plot, for instance, and character – and it struggles to hold its audience’s attention in spite of its brief forty-five minute running time.

Throughout the installation preceding the show –the room is open an hour beforehand, meaning you can technically spend more time enjoying it than watching the play itself – clouds move across blue skies while a small collection of lamps in the centre of the room pulse rhythmically on and off, like a heartbeat.

It's distinctive in a way, but also has a kind of packaged ambience feel, like the waiting room of a spa, not helped by James McCarthy & Charles Webber’s pleasant but ultimately unmemorable music.

The audience are eventually spared from having to decide whether to look at each other or at the lamps by the entrance of a woman and a small greyhound dog.

The woman is the play's sole (human) performer, played by Laura Cubitt – if 'played by' is the appropriate word to use – while the dog, having little to say for itself, promptly falls asleep for the duration.

Cubitt begins to list things that can be seen in nature, which feels like a technique to catch the audience's attention: short sentences, distinctive images, snapshot ideas to ease one into the world of the play.

Unfortunately, it doesn't ever really move on from this into anything else. In spite of its fascinatingly immersive design, Above Me the Wide Blue Sky struggles to become anything more than a list.

The images she describes move from being largely preoccupied with the natural world itself to describing the uneasy relationship between man and nature: man's destruction, nature's small victories – mole hills growing on a roundabout – and the power of each to damage and destroy the other.

Man is lethal to nature, but nature can take lives too; one of the more striking images is of a teenage boy out at sea, struggling against the tide.

Distinctive as some of these sequences are, there is something contrived about so many of them, self-consciously beautiful in a romanticised English countryside way, that the power of nature, its potential, feels underplayed. And when Cubitt finally, in the play's middle section, is permitted to speak in the first person, having one solitary human voice feels alienating.

This section ends up giving the impression that the natural world is, really, something most appreciated by the middle classes, along with The Archers and extended prose poem performance pieces – that nature is at its best when glimpsed from the field at the bottom of mummy and daddy's garden.

An impressive feat of memory from Cubitt it certainly is, and beautiful to look at too, at times startlingly so –but this short piece of art-theatre from Fevered Sleep fails to capitalise on its potential, and ends up feeling empty and ultimately self-indulgent.

Lauren Mooney

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Review - Above Me The Wide Blue Sky - Young Vic Theatre 2013  

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