Brighton Fringe 2017
Peppered Wit Productions donate part of their proceedings to a national bereavement charity. Jem Turner directs collaboratively with actors Rob Hall and Tara Lacey. The set’s an economically wondrous affair by Rob Alcock; Nick Wilson manages the clapping numbers from Banbury Cross Players, the sound systems and lighting.
Yes, blink and you’ll miss it, this Leytonstone-grounded gem, Phil Porter’s 2012 quirky but gently heart-breaking comedy of two loners who find each other through a baby monitor and break real bones. Peppered Wit Productions donate part of their proceedings to a national bereavement charity. Jem Turner directs collaboratively with actors Rob Hall and Tara Lacey. The set’s an economically wondrous affair by Rob Alcock, deftly intricate; Nick Wilson manages the delicate clapping numbers from Banbury Cross Players and much else from the sound systems and lighting.
Sophie Kissack moves with her dad from the Isle of Man to Leytonstone, they share a house; he dies of pancreatic cancer and she inherits the house, a little money and loses her job as Software designer for being invisible. Jonah Jenkins grows up in a religious community run by his father, and has no friends either. His mother’s died of pancreatic cancer too but she’s hidden away £27,000 just for him and he makes for Leytonstone on recommendation. Of course he’s Sophie’s lodger but he doesn’t yet meets her. Only her baby monitor set up for her father now left for him to observe her upstairs as if by invitation.
Lacey and Hall share these serendipitous coincidences, speak out enchantingly. Hall often sounds like Alan Bennett on a farm, with the same level of unassuming doggedness. Portraying a couple of introverted, isolated and sweet-natured people should be an emotionally simple understatement. Their very dysfunctionality though, only partly explained though their lives, makes for compelling viewing: how does one voyeuristic temperament map onto someone openly inviting that very behaviour?
Lacey depicts not only Sophie’s hesitant quietly comical sense of her own desolate world, but a host of other characters, brassy estate agent to surgeon. There’s a telling use of props like the music to notate scenes or underscore them from crutches to outdoor beds to work desks. Underlining this too is a clever use of doubling in the set space, two desks and other items giving us a literally parallel universe – and much of it on apps makes for the first What’s App affair. Most of all the characters are shockingly individual, distinct in their muted quirkiness.
So begins a game of consensual stalking where Jonah’s early life guarding community boundaries naturally evolves though Sophie’s invitation to share and follow her life, even to pursuing her and almost sharing a ride in the Wheel inches from each other. It all upends when convinced she sees her father Sophie runs across to be knocked down by a van full of actors, suffering a multi-fractured pelvis and left in a coma. Jonah’s there of course and his long vigil hesitatingly wins Sophie or she him. Hall can’t help fixating on the surgeon who helps rehabilitate Sophie, but their interlocking shy obsessions complement each other, even down to feeding the mangy fox. Their final delicate intimacy is heart-warming. Can’t it end there?
Loneliness though is difficult to shake off when you’re together. Reversions to fears, a mute unspoken pattern can reverse everything. A TV series parallels the lovers, an unhappy then volte-face happy ending in a narrative reversing at two points. The first lesson is finding that you’ve outgrown each other or the moments passed. But there’s an epilogue to that series. ‘Love is… whatever you feel it to be.’ Will Blink follow it or reverse the pattern?
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.