On Blueberry Hill

Review - On Blueberry Hill at Trafalgar Studios

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

Sebastian Barry, a feted novelist (who is currently the Laureate for Irish Fiction) and playwright, makes his long overdue West End debut with this London transfer for Irish new writing company Fishamble's production of On Blueberry Hill, a play that they commissioned and originally premiered as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2017. His previous plays have included The Stewart of Christendom, seen in London at the Royal Court, and Our Lady of Sligo at the National; but while fellow Irish writers like Brian Friel and Frank McGuinness have regularly appeared in the West End, a commercial theatrical life for Barry has eluded him until now.

On Blueberry Hill is a tender, evocative portrait of a seemingly improbable prison friendship between two cellmates, both of whom have killed someone. One was a priest; the other, a construction worker. It's a slow burn, though, as the layers of their intertwining narratives are gradually revealed. They sit on their bunk beds narrating individual monologues. There's not much physical action at all; and in the steeply raked Trafalgar Studios, some spectators may feel initially physically as well as emotionally distanced from them.

But it is the sublime gift of the splendid duo of actors David Ganly and Niall Buggy that they draw us in with the compassion and caring that their stories eventually reveal, and the qualities of redemption and ultimate forgiveness that they forge. This poetic play is orchestrated like a piece of music by director Jim Culleton to reveal its haunting and constantly shifting perspectives.

It would be unfair to say more of what transpires between the two men, except to say there's a transfixing quality of stillness and understanding that's quietly overwhelming.

On Blueberry Hill is at Trafalgar Studios to 2nd May.

On Blueberry Hill tickets are available now.

Originally published on

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