Blue Door, Ustinov Studio, Bath Theatre Royal

IT’S sometimes difficult, living in an ethnically uniform area like rural south west England, to understand the continuing fuss about (for example) changing the name of the Colston Hall, pulling down statues of confederate soldiers and otherwise seeking to re-write history.

If you have fallen into that mindset, go and see Tanya Barfield’s play Blue Door in its UK premiere production at Bath’s Ustinov until Saturday 9th March. It’s a rivetting  dissection of what it means to be black, for those whose so-recent ancestors bore the scars of slavery There’s not much point legislating against “modern slavery” if we have so very little understanding of what it meant for people to be “owned” by other people, and to be regarded by them not only as  inferior but replaceably irrelevant.

Longtime Corona­tion Street and RSC actor Ray Fearon is billed as the “star” of this two hander, directed by Eleanor Rhode.  But that’s because the audience is more likely to have heard of him than of Fehinti Balogun. That situation will rapidly be corrected, as the multi-talented young British Nigerian should be heading for a spectacular future.

Tanya Barfield wrote Blue Door in 2005, and is had its New York premiere the following year. In her programme notes she says, with sadness, that the play is equally relevant now.  Probably more so in this era of violent divisiveness in US politics and society.

Lewis has worked all his life to overcome the intrinsic hurdles of being a black man in America. He has studied, concentrated, turned his back on the traditional interests of his relatives, and become a professor of mathematics, married to a white woman. Fearon vividly portrays a man who has “forgotten” the lived experience of his family and his ancestors – even his late brother – and is being forced to confront the past as his memories come to life.

As the play opens, his world collapses, and his dark night of the soul forces him to explore his heritage and its effects on his own sense of self.

Every other character – his brother, father, grandfather and great grandfather, the slave owners, a preacher and more – is brought to life by Fehinti Balogun. He sings, dances, jokes, loves, fears, suffers and carries on.

The Blue Door of the title is a metaphor for a protective barrier keeping the good in and the bad outside.

Laurence Boswell’s tenure as artistic director of the Ustinov has brought rare and unforgettable plays, indelible performances and awe-inspiring theatre to Bath. Blue Door is perhaps the finest yet.



Photographs by Simon Annand

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