Blue review – Thomas Weatherall gives finely tuned performance in gripping one-man show

Belvoir St theatre, Sydney
At just 22, the Heartbreak High star proves to be a polymath, in a vulnerable and funny stage debut he wrote and stars in

Thomas Weatherall, 22, is best known to television audiences as Malakai, from the reboot of the television series Heartbreak High. In Blue, the play Weatherall began writing in his own high school years, he is on stage alone as Mark, in a fictional work informed by his own experience, which opens a deep vein of trauma.

Mark is 20, an aspiring writer who wants to emulate his mother, an unpublished author. He is not her favourite child, but when he moves out of home they begin penning letters to one another – perhaps because writing to him with her painful news is easier than speaking about it.

Blue, which Weatherall wrote as the 2021 Balnaves fellow at Belvoir Street Theatre, is a captivating work, not least because he knows how to hold an audience and work a stage. The set, made of white polystyrene panels shaped like a large wave, is effective, with textured videos of tides and water ripples projected across it. This scenic richness reflects Mark’s happiest childhood memories swimming in the ocean, a salty balm for the depression he began experiencing around age 12. We soon learn that Mark has suffered significant losses and worsening mental health from his adolescence onward.

Weatherall’s relatable, accessible performance as Mark makes the events feel drawn from real life. However, while Weatherall has spoken in interviews of his own experiences with depression and learning to manage his mental health, he emphasises Blue is a “very personal fiction”. The author’s intention is to produce a “kind of unprescribed therapy”, to spark discussions about grief, untimely death and suicidal ideation.

Thomas Weatherall in Blue
‘Weatherall’s relatable, accessible performance as Mark makes the events feel drawn from real life.’ Photograph: Joseph Mayers

Weatherall moves gracefully across the set, perhaps reflecting years of the Kamilaroi performer’s childhood dance training and the influence of the play’s director, Deborah Brown, a Bangarra Dance Theatre alumnus. It is curious to reflect that he considers himself introverted off stage, as he boldly removes his singlet and splashes about in a water-filled moat eventually revealed in the set’s floor. Weatherall’s keen sense of physicality is matched by a wide acting range finely calibrated to his writing’s rhythms and quite a few surprisingly funny lines that land just as they should.

Just occasionally, Weatherall speaks too fast when portraying Mark’s more anxious moments, and as gripping as the work is, the script reveals its first tragedy a little too soon. The basis of the relationship between Mark and his mother is also little underwritten: why, for instance, does Mark say she looked at him sorrowfully, as though he had disappointed her? Two actors are credited in the roles of the mother and Mark’s brother, John, but they are only seen as subtle elements in the final edit of the projections: a blurred torso shot and a pair of hands disappearing below the water surface.

Putting them in the program seems odd, creating a false expectation that their characters will be developed in some way, or that the play might shift from its monologue structure.

I also wanted more on Mark’s happy times with John, from whom he was inseparable. With only 10-and-a-half-months’ difference in their ages, they were dubbed with the non-sequitur “Irish twins”, says Mark, although “we knew fair fuckin’ well we weren’t Irish”.

Ultimately, however, Weatherall’s performance, strong in its brave vulnerability, is life-affirming, even if loss has left his creation jaded beyond his years and feeling “love is like a car crash you can’t look away from”. For in the blunt words of Mark’s brother John: “Life may be shit, but it’s also pretty great. It’ll get better.”

  • Blue is at Belvoir Street Theatre until 29 January, as part of Sydney festival

  • In Australia, support is available at Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14, and at MensLine on 1300 789 978. In the UK, the charity Mind is available on 0300 123 3393 and Childline on 0800 1111. In the US, Mental Health America is available on 800-273-8255


Steve Dow

The GuardianTramp

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