Some Kind of Bliss
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
June 14, 2008
I have to admit that it was Lulu who got me interested in seeing Some Kind of Bliss. But actress Lucy Briers—and Rachel, the complicated and fascinating woman she portrays in this new solo play by Samuel Adamson—kept me riveted, even as it became clear that the '60s pop star ("To Sir With Love," etc.) was merely incidental to the proceedings.
But Lulu is the catalyst, in a way. Rachel is a thirtysomething entertainment reporter, and her current assignment is to interview Lulu at her Greenwich home, south of London. When she arrives at Lulu's home, she notes the large French art deco mirror in the hall:
Well, I'm weeping blood on my shag-me shoes but at least I'll get fifty words out of the mirror. As if no one's thought of mirrors before: oh-ah, Reader, good enough for pint-sized popstress, good enough for you.
That line gives you a sense of how Rachel sees what she does and who she is. But I need to talk now about the "weeping blood," for that's what the play's really about. You see, this morning, Rachel left the house six hours early, telling her husband (and perhaps half-believing it herself) that she needed to do some research. But instead, Rachel walked from London Bridge to Lulu's house, and that long journey turned into a literally life-changing adventure. Right at the top of the show, Rachel catalogs what happened:
Today—after I'd had the electric sex, got clobbered, killed the dog and parked the hijacked ice-cream van—I found the pop legend's house in Greenwich.
Yes, what Rachel recounts to us is a yarn—one of those tall tales that feels true only because it couldn't have been made up. But there's life behind the anecdote. All of the extraordinary things that befell Rachel on her way to Lulu's—and all of the very specific and very significant memories that percolated to the surface of her consciousness while the extraordinary things were going on—have pushed Rachel to someplace new in a life that had gotten badly stuck. Some Kind of Bliss is a play about setting out to interview a middle-aged pop singer and breaking out of a midlife crisis at the same time.
Adamson's play is incisive if not always enormously deep; I liked it for coming full circle and for showing us a heroine who actually gets somewhere rather than remaining stuck in the rut she's just realized she's in. Briers makes Rachel utterly captivating, in ways that are hard to define: I remember thinking to myself, maybe 15 minutes in, I really like and care about this woman; I want to sit here and find out more about her. The performance is very physical without ever feeling unmotivated or overwrought. And there's a depth to the characterization that belies the occasional simplicity of the writing; Briers helps us identify the parts of Lucy's story that mesh with our own.
Toby Frow's direction is unobtrusive; the design elements—a very spare walking path crisscrossing the stage that reminds us of the Yellow Brick Road, and an ordinary outfit of blouse, jeans, and "shag-me boots" that feels more and more essential as the play proceeds—are by Lucy Osborne and feel quite perfect.
It all goes to show that sometimes it's right to stray from the path. Briers's Rachel, meditating on that very theme, is fine and affecting company indeed.