Tag Archives: Alex Austin

Blackout Songs

Blackout Songs


Hampstead Theatre

BLACKOUT SONGS at the Hampstead Theatre



Blackout Songs

“the ending is strong enough that the audience’s slight loss of attention is whipped back into submission”


Alice and Charlie have both found themselves at their first AA meeting. Lingering by the coffee table, avoiding taking their seats, Alice persuades Charlie that he needs a drink for medicinal purposes, and off they run. This is the beginning of a tumultuous, toxic, hopelessly sincere love story. Or at least, that’s how one of them remembers it.

Scenes are presented as fact, later disputed or questioned, with no resolution; specific details and conversations repeat themselves in various parts of the story, and the audience experiences the desperate, failing attempt to recall things as they happened. It reminds me of Florian Zeller’s The Father, where we experience dementia first-hand, except in this case, neither witness is reliable, nor does it really matter. The fact is they love each other.

Anisha Fields’ design appears, at first, almost non-existent: stackable chairs line two sides of the stage, and that’s about it. It’s possible that’s just how the auditorium looked pre-rehearsals. After a while, though, despite their avoidance of AA, the chairs seem to suggest that the whole play is taking place at a meeting, someone trying to set the record straight, finally. Alice is dressed like Penny Lane from Almost Famous, in a fitted Afghan coat, large sunglasses, and a little slip dress. The comparison is perfect: Alice has performed as herself for so long she’s become the performance, and what appears false initially is actually just who she is now. She seems so ridiculous on first meeting that I’m worried Rebecca Humphries just isn’t very good, or the script has let her down. But the opposite is true: her façade is ridiculous, but her insecurities bubble just under the surface.

Alex Austin’s Charlie is scrappy and dopey and his near lack of costume- baggy top and jeans- reflects that. He’s the antithesis of Alice, always himself, always honest about how he feels. Austin appears as a nervous puppy, so ready to be loved, and it’s completely endearing and, ultimately, heart breaking.

Sound designer Holly Khan and lighting designer Christopher Nairne do a lot of the heavy lifting: masses of reverb when they’re in a church, a thudding heartbeat timed so perfectly with the on-stage tension, you can’t recall when it started; sickly florescent tubes double as unflattering lighting at the AA meeting, and artful strobes, denoting the strange experience of time, and the eponymous blackouts.

There is no dead space in this script, but writer Joe White does have a problem on his hands. Because despite the fact that there are no scenes to cut, it’s too long. Ultimately it doesn’t matter; the ending is strong enough that the audience’s slight loss of attention is whipped back into submission. But the script is so nearly perfect, it’s a shame it’s not ever so slightly pacier.



Reviewed on 10th November 2022

by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Robert Day



Previously reviewed at this venue:


The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022
Mary | ★★★★ | October 2022



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A New and Better You – 4 Stars


A New and Better You

The Yard Theatre

Reviewed – 29th June 2018


“Harbot’s script has some beautiful language and is rather poetic in parts”


A New and Better You, written by Joe Harbot and directed by Cheryl Gallacher, tells the story of an unnamed protagonist (played by Hannah Traylen) as she transforms from an unmotivated loser to a superstar wellness influencer. It’s a biting critique of the online self-help movement and the soulless consumerism at the heart of it.

The protagonist’s “upgrade” is overseen by two–also unnamed–characters, who seem like a mix of motivational speakers and PR consultants. They are played by the excellent Saffron Coomber and Alex Austin. Their creepy smiles and upbeat attitudes are enough to set your teeth on edge. The acting overall is superb, in particular from Traylen who is able to move from depressed to ecstatic seamlessly and is able to subtly show the cracks starting to appear in the star’s supposedly “new and improved” self.

Harbot’s script has some beautiful language and is rather poetic in parts. One long monologue where the protagonist lists, and apologises, for all of her flaws, is especially moving. However, the frequency of these long, abstract monologues becomes a bit repetitive, and while these speeches about how to improve oneself do reflect the themes of the play I couldn’t help but wish for a bit more dialogue and action. While the script certainly proves its point about the absurdity and shallowness of the self-improvement world, the play feels like it is lacking in structure.

The design is sublime. Bethany Wells has created a surrealist masterpiece with a diamond shape sandpit at the centre of the stage and a gold diamond stuck to the brick wall at the back of the theatre. The projections of motivational quotes and emojis are funny, stylish and add to the overall nightmarish feeling, without ever being intrusive. The stylish design and projections are further complimented by the excellent design and sound/composition. Jess Bernberg’s lighting design is original and mesmerising, in particular in the final climactic scene where we are made to feel as though we are in a desert; the lights perfectly mimic the sun, swirling sand and hot, blurry air. Josh Anio Grigg’s sound, like the projections, never feels invasive but rather like another layer of this creepy, false world of gym exercises and product endorsements.

Overall, A New and Better You is slick, stylish, and a haunting look at the ends some people will go to to improve themselves. Well worth a watch.

Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by Helen Murray


A New and Better You

The Yard Theatre until  14th July


Previously reviewed at this venue
Buggy Baby | ★★★★ | March 2018
Three Sisters | ★★★★ | May 2018


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