First off I must say that Blindsided
is the least convincing of the three Simon Stephens originals I’ve seen* This might in part be down to the cast - some of them hadn’t, for my money, worked out how to make the lines work – or the production, of which more later. The delivery of Katie West as Kathy and Andrew Sheridan as John comes across as stilted and adds an unreality to the characters that would only really be valid if they were well-enough drawn to be exaggerated representatives of a certain human type. Indeed, this might be the intention as the other characters speak much more naturally. But Kathy and John come across less as exemplars than as grotesques. To be fair to the actors, I wasn’t tempted to pay £9.99 for the text before the start and I was even less likely to do so after the end. It’s likely that the stylised language – not to mention the stylised sex** - is a deliberate technique to set these two young people apart from the rest. It’s not just the older characters – Kathy’s mother Susan (Julie Hesmondhalgh in, for me, the best performance of the day) and family friend Isaac (Jack Deam) – who speak more normally. Kathy’s best friend Siobhan (Rebecca Callard) also eschews the manic verbosity that characterises the central couple.
Of course writers like Pinter and Orton can put grotesques with a manner of speech that nobody uses in real life at the centre of the action, even in an everyday setting, with wonderful results. On this evidence, though, I don’t think Stephens can pull it off (yet). A more pessimistic view, though, is that after Punk Rock
– where the some of characters are twisted alright but the drama explains how they got that way – he now feels justified in just throwing the grotesques into the middle of things in a play that’s really just a vehicle for (not particularly original) social comment. The two parts of the play are set in 1979 and 1997 and very obvious points are made about each year being seen as promising radical change for the better at a time of deep despondency. Social disintegration is depicted with no attempt at either explanation or suggestions for improvement – though, to my mind, the self-centredness that seems to run through the last half-century like 'Blackpool' through a stick of rock is very prominent which might be some sort of explanation. There is plenty of irony – perhaps the best example being that the student who argues in an essay on the Paris Commune that its brutal suppression was a good thing because order is essential to society (and who is overwhelmingly delighted to have got as much as a ‘B’ for the first time ever) can’t see how her own life goes against that principle (she later seems to see this in circumstances I can’t reveal without betraying the pivotal event of the drama).
The set doesn’t help. Not for the first time recently the set designers seem to have paid too little attention to the requirements of the audience. Tunnels rather like those used in sports stadia have been constructed either side of the playing area for the characters to make their entrances and exits; which means that a sell-out performance has lots of empty seats which couldn’t be sold because the view would be too restricted. Worse, two huge stanchions such as would be seen in, say, a warehouse – perhaps suggesting cheap, pre-fabricated social facilities – stood on the edge of the circle meaning that several people who had bought seats had their sightlines spoiled (the couple behind me were bitterly critical). I can’t think of a good dramatic reason for these intrusions though I suspect the theatre has tipped off the critics as to what they’re supposed to represent so I might find out when I get round to reading the reviews.
Runs until 15 Feb though I’m told it’s heavily booked in advance. Day seats as usual for those who don’t find the low banquettes too uncomfortable. These have the advantage of being unreserved so if you’re there when the auditorium doors open you can grab the best positions to avoid the obstructions – probably at 90 degrees to the two entrance tunnels.http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=721
*the others are Punk Rock
. I’m not counting adaptations like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
and A Doll’s House
**the strangest stage depiction of sex that I can remember (don’t enlarge the following if you plan to go and see the play): the first kiss is followed almost immediately by a scene (which we learn from the context is weeks later) where Kathy fellates John without even fully undoing his flies (whether this is part of the distancing effect or is just a consequence of the difficulty of staging such a scene without outraging public decency is unclear) then they spring apart and perform a series of hip thrusts and passionate moans at a distance of several feet from each other. This could well be a metaphor for the self-centredness of the two young people but to me it just looked odd.