This is the most affecting bittersweet piece of theatre seen at the Fringe for a while and a masterly play. That Hall and Lacey invest it with such pathos humour and delicacy whilst working to pinpoint direction is equally winning, equally devastating and makes you dream sequels. So tightly scored is the piece with its briefest of musical interludes, you’d think it moves like a tiny musical or chamber opera. It’s a must-see.
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
Upstairs at the Gatehouse
27th August 2016
Photography provided by the Camden Fringe
Blink, written by Phil Porter and directed by Jem Turner, Rob Hall and Tara Lacey, is one of the Camden Fringe’s hidden gems. A beautiful portrayal of love, loss, and life, touchingly bound together by the simple, everyday moments we all take for granted but which take on huge significance for protagonists Sophie (Lacey) and Jonah (Hall).
Sophie lives in Leytonstone. Until recently everything was going great. She lived on the top-floor flat of the house owned by her beloved father, while her father lived below. They shared the garden. She had a job in account management and led a simple but pleasant existence. Then everything changed. Her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died a few months later and just after the funeral she was made redundant (the only person on her team, chosen for the bizarre reason of lack of visibility even when present). Jonah also lives in Leytonstone, in the downstairs flat that was once occupied by Sophie’s father. He isn’t from the big city though. He grew up in a religious commune, isolated from the real world. When his mother died from pancreatic cancer he discovered a letter from her, instructing him to find the money she had buried in the garden and to escape the confines of the commune. Though ill-prepared socially, he dutifully followed her instructions. He ends up in Leytonstone by pure chance: when he offered a tissue to a bleeding man at the train station, the man informed him that Leytonstone is the best place to live in London.
Both characters are socially awkward, grieving, and confused about their place in society. Sophie, puzzled by the visibility comment made at her redundancy, lonely, and isolated, is desperate for a little attention. Although Jonah, who is clearly on the autistic spectrum, doesn’t know how to behave outside the commune, he is curious to find out. Like Sophie, he is terribly alone, however finds some comfort in caring for the sick fox Scruffilitis who visits the garden every day. Then Sophie, touched by Jonah’s behaviour towards Scruffilitis and reminded of her father in the garden, suddenly concocts an extraordinary and somewhat ridiculous plan which leads to Jonah consensually stalking her. We follow both characters as they go through the motions of everyday life, separate and yet together, taking pleasure in the small things, a TV drama for example. However this bizarre period of happiness soon comes to an abrupt end and Sophie and Jonah have to confess their actions and face the future.
This heart-rending production had me in tears. While Sophie and Jonah have what is possibly the most dysfunctional relationship on the planet, you can’t help but root for them. Porter’s touching descriptions of their daily, often banal activities combined with superb performances from both Lacey and Hall result in a show that is raw, real and utterly brilliant.
The simple set design from Chris Alcock also deserves a mention and supports the story wonderfully. Two tables are cleverly used to divide the space into flats. Yet when required, these tables also seamlessly become a hospital bed or a cosy bed under the stars. A series of objects dotted around the room illustrate the characters’ lives: wellington boots, a shovel, a camera, a pile of cardboard boxes stacked in the corner – basic objects with huge importance for Sophie and Jonah. In the background a screen draped by curtains is in central focus, with white cut-outs of London at either side. The screen is used at various points throughout the production, for example to show the words in the letter from Jonah’s mother, and adds a nice touch.
Blink is a beautiful, poignant and often humorous tale which will engage you from the start. It’s a shame it only has such a short run at the Camden Fringe and I can’t wait to see what Peppered Wit Productions do next.
Blink opened on 25th August and runs until 28th August 2016 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, as part of the Camden Fringe.
Nearest tube station: Highgate (Northern)