Monday, 3 September 2012

Theatre review: Blink

Phil Porter's "voyeuristic love story" Blink comes to Soho Theatre after a successful Edinburgh run. A tragicomic, often joyous but ultimately rather sad look at modern isolation, it follows the unconventional relationship between two socially awkward misfits, both of whom have just lost a parent, and found themselves with both more money and more free time than they're sure what to do with. Sophie (Rosie Wyatt) has lost her job just weeks after her father's death, and is starting to believe herself invisible. Jonah (Harry McEntire) grew up on an isolated Christian farming community in Yorkshire, but his mother's dying wish is that he expands his horizons, so he takes the suitcase full of cash she left him to London, where he moves into the flat below Sophie's. Now a virtual recluse, she spots him feeding a mangy fox in their garden and hatches a plan to start up a relationship without actually interacting in any way.

Porter's play walks the fine line of these sorts of romances, between "quirky" and "creepy," tipping over into the latter more often than most. Sophie sends Jonah a video baby monitor, with which he can watch and listen to her but not communicate back. As she starts to get her confidence back and leave the house, Jonah graduates into stalking, and their "dates" consist of her going to places she thinks he might enjoy following her to. It takes a major event to actually get them to speak to each other.

One thing that's interesting about Joe Murphy's production is that he holds onto this sense of unease, embracing the fact that this isn't just the unconventional rom-com that it could be seen as, and making the play's uncomfortable point about alienation in modern society. But it's done with a lightness of touch that means it's entertaining and rather sweet all the same. The simple design by Hannah Clark sees the two actors starting out behind desks, with props hidden away in drawers and cardboard boxes, and each with a microphone through which they speak only when they want to take on one of the supporting characters - like McEntire as the self-involved boss firing Sophie from her job but more worried about how it affects her own karma, and Wyatt as a potty-mouthed German conceptual artist.

And it's the casting of these two that of course gives the piece its heart and allows you to root for a relationship which is far from healthy if you think about it for more than a second. Both are funny; Wyatt's Sophie is also terribly fragile but with a determination to become "visible" to the rest of the world again. After last year's Bunny in the same theatre and now this, she would seem to be a talent to watch out for. McEntire seems an obvious choice for Jonah: A couple of years back someone seems to have decided that he could be allowed to play heterosexual characters, as long as they were a bit otherworldly. His trademark disconcertingly wide grin, like a benign Joker, suits Jonah's delighted reaction to everything new in the world he's been shielded from by his upbringing, while suggesting that there might be something a bit more sinister underneath his innocence. Although surely McEntire must be wishing by now for a bit more variety in the roles he's offered.

The combination of these two actors was always going to make Blink worth a look, and its dark undercurrent does bring a bit of a different note to this than other plays of its type. But it is a play of a particular type, the offbeat theatrical rom-com - I feel like I've seen it done before (particularly at Soho, who ever since Midsummer have seemed keen to replicate its success) and though this is done well, I've seen it done better.

Blink by Phil Porter is booking until the 22nd of September at Soho Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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