Theatre as Live Cinema


“Suppose I were to begin by saying that I have fallen in love with a colour.”   


Ben Whishaw. (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

There is no text for Bluets just a detailed programme.   Maggie Nelson has rarely allowed her work to be played in another medium.  We are told that these performances at the Royal Court are never to be repeated so this is an unique experience.  Bluets her book is a complex and poetic collection of her thoughts on separation, depression and the colour blue.   

Katie Mitchell is known as a director for her productions featuring a hand held camera going back at least 18 years so she is most certainly not joining a bandwagon inspired by Ivo van Hove or Jamie Lloyd.  In the programme she has written an article on Live Cinema, a technique she conceived in 2006 when directing an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves for the National Theatre. 

Emma D'Arcy (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

To quote her, “In live streaming theatre, the action on stage is designed for the filming process, determining exactly where actors stand and how they act the scenes. In a Live Cinema production, it is as if the audience were watching a film shoot (on the stage level) at the same time as watching the finished movie in the cinema (on the screen above the staged action).”­­­­­

There are three actors playing A,B and C, Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle.  Each has a mini station with a camera, a desk and a bottle of whisky.  I was thinking it shouldn’t be whisky but Bombay Sapphire or Blue Curaçao as one obsession in the musings is everything with the colour Blue. On the desk is a collection of blue polished stones which we see in close up­­­.

Kayla Meikle (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

We hear Kayla Meikle’s voice and we see Ben Whishaw’s face and listen to a litany of things blue, growing indigo, the gemstone lapis lazuli, the prince of blue, a bower bird who has made a nest of scraps of blue fabric, blue bottle caps and blue Give Up this Seat signs on a tube train.

Maggie Nelson’s prose poems have been selected by Margaret Perry and translated, not word for word, but to give an overall meaning.  The prince of blue leaves the woman and causes her terrible pain.  The princess of blue who does not leave her is I think her friend who is paralysed in a terrible accident. 

I do not know whether they are three different characters or three aspects of the same person.  As they are speaking there is pre-recorded footage, much of it of Ben Whishaw outside, on a tube train, on a street of shops, in a park while recording things blue.  There is melancholic music and the whole piece is only 80 minutes long but feels longer as we struggle with the lack of narrative. 

Ben Whishaw (photo: Camilla Greenwell)

It is not easy to follow and feels like a deconstructed story probably because the source material is also elliptical. Maybe you should just let the experience wash over you rather than seeking a coherent thread.  As the first production chosen by the Royal Court’s Artistic Director David Byrne, it is certainly ambitious, different and disconcerting.  It also heralds a reign that may be more about writers and directors than actors.

I see that the next play Ben Whishaw is doing is Waiting For Godot  which will be a breeze to understand after Bluets.

Emma D'Arcy (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

Production Notes


Written  by Maggie Nelson

Adapted by Margaret Perry

Directed by Katie Mitchell



Ben Whishaw

Emma D’Arcy

Kayla Meikle


Director:  Katie Mitchell

Designer: Alex Wales

Composer:  Paul Clark

Lighting designer Anthony Doran
Sound designers: Paul Clark,
Munotida Chinyanga
Video/projection designer:  Grant Gee,
Ellie Thompson


Running Time: 80 minutes with no interval

Booking to 29th June 2024


Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Royal Court Theatre

Sloane Square

London SW1W 4AS

Phone: 020 7565 5000


Tube: Sloane Square


by Lizzie Loveridge

at the Royal Court

at the matinée  on 1st June  2024