Tag Archives: Robert Day

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

 

 

Click here to read all our latest reviews

 

The Fellowship

The Fellowship

★★★

Hampstead Theatre

The Fellowship

The Fellowship

Hampstead Theatre

Reviewed – 28th June 2022

★★★

 

“Williams brings nuance and care to a conversation that often feels impossible to even broach”

 

The Fellowship, directed by Paulette Randall, sees writer Roy Williams return to the conversation he began with his 2021 play, Death Of England: Delroy : What does it mean to be black and British? Does it mean something different today compared to, say, twenty, or fifty years ago? Has anything changed? Is change even possible?

Three generations of one family, all living in the UK, all struggling to place themselves within a society that has historically and repeatedly tried to reject and diminish them. The trouble with this line of inquiry is not that it’s not compelling or apposite, but that it’s just so big. So, what we end up with is a near-on three-hour play that rarely takes a breather, and struggles to conclude.

Having grown up in the same hard, harsh environment, with a mother (now ailing off-stage) who came to the UK in the Windrush generation, sisters Marcia and Dawn have responded in contrast. As Marcia says, “You’re nothing but trauma, Dawn, you always have been. And I’ve always been a selfish cow.” In other words, Dawn remains an open wound, unable to heal from society’s repeated othering. Whereas Marcia has decided to take what she can, only looking out for herself. But neither have been able to truly break free.

So we look to the next generation, Dawn’s son Jermaine (Ethan Hazzard) who is in love with a white woman (Rosie Day), but unable to tell his family who consider her the enemy.

It’s an excellent structure for a discussion on racism, inherited trauma, and generational change. But Williams seems incapable of letting a thought hang in the air. Instead, every conversation is double as long as it should be, tracing and retracing what he said, what she said, what everyone did and when they did it. Three hours of yelling ends up sounding like white noise after a while, and though there are plenty of endearing relational minutiae (the sisters bumping boobs, or dancing to white pop music) latticed amongst the intensity, it’s all delivered at the same turbulent place; there’s rarely a minute to breathe.

Cherrelle Skeete and Suzette Llewellyn have an excellent rapport as sisters, which is all the more impressive given that Skeete has only been rehearsing this part for two weeks- Lucy Vandi had to suddenly withdraw due to ill health. In fact, despite occasional scenes holding the script, Skeete is arguably the strongest cast member, flitting between affection and intense rage with veristic ease.

Libby Watson’s design- Scandi sofas and table encircled by a futuristic LED halo, which glows blue or red in accordance with instructions for Alexa- serves as a clean, modern canvas for the chaotic storyline, and sits in clever contrast to the script’s subject, as old as time: Us and Them.

Williams brings nuance and care to a conversation that often feels impossible to even broach. The casting is clever and fun, and there are multiple moments where the audience finds themselves humming in endorsement. But ultimately it just doesn’t feel finished yet; the script needs a red pen and a harsh eye.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Robert Day

 


The Fellowship

Hampstead Theatre until 23rd July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | Hampstead Theatre | May 2022

 

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