FringeReview Scotland 2014
We are introduced to 5 characters who share one thing – drink. The stories of these 5 characters who are now in recovery is then unfolded through movement and narrative in an interwoven style that keeps up the tempo for the most part and therefore our interest. From their individual experiences they talk of how drink made them feel alive, then sick and then how they got the gift of recovery. Each of the 5 characters are unnamed as we follow the stories of an all American girl, the slightly neurotic English woman, the gay young man, the East coast Scots girl and a slightly older English guy with ease and fascination. Their stories became central to the dynamic as they take us from when they had no drink, the environment in which they found drink, their first drink, the descent into difficult circumstances including the girl who urinates from on high and the guy who leaves ash in the kitchen to eventual realisation that life cannot go on like this. For each of them they find solace and recovery through the 12 step programme before they restart their lives as functioning human beings rather than “functioning” alcoholics.
Let me start by saying my name is Donald and I am an alcoholic addict. I have been sober for 23 years and have struggled to find a useful and theatrical explanation of my illness that wasn’t all misty eyed sentimentality or an advert for “the programme”. I am still looking but Blackout is by some distance the closest that I have come to finding a performance piece that is theatrical rather than sentimental. Its greatest strength is telling these stories without the need to apologise or over dramatise.
The writing is crisp and has just the right level of humour, confession and horror attached. Joshua Payne and Belle Jones have taken that writing with gusto and given us a fantastically tight piece of theatricality that interweaves perfectly all 5 stories – apart from in one sequence – more of that later. They duck and dive between each other, 5 stools and the mattress with confidence, verve and the qualities you want with theatre that is trying and succeeding to be different.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I could give was that I “identified” with much of what was onstage and the telling of the stories had a true authentic feel to them. Judging by the people in the audience who laughed or sighed when a penny dropped I was not alone. I did have one problem though. When the characters ended up in recovery and at what seemed to be an AA meeting it became far too preachy. I have been to AA (Treasurer Sunday night Woodlands Road candlelight group for a long while) but found the introspective is there a God and the 12 steps are marvellous even if my Higher Power isn’t your higher power sequence halted things stone dead. The pace dropped, the movement vanished and my interest waned. It was like the advert break.
Once over it zipped back into theatrical territory. I did wonder if my own experiences here were colouring my judgement and I was simply getting back for all the meetings I sat bored to tears trying to laugh at the usual jokes but it was the lack of theatricality that did it for me. It could be argued it gave the cast a breather and it could be argued that the serenity of that mid point was a counter point to the madness preceding it; gaining clarity allows self reflection. It just didn’t do it for me though.
It was a gripe within the context of an otherwise beautifully judged piece which had a great lighting design, fantastic soundscape that worked so well and performances that were just so well observed. The actors took us along their madness with ease and aplomb and I have been trying to work out what I would think if I had woken up to ashes on my kitchen floor…
I was delighted to see that this had been part of On the Verge at the Arches last year as I had seen 3 pieces this year. RCS should be promoting this to their current crop of students as an example of just how good they could be.
Though this run has ended you can catch an exceptional insight into the issues of addiction at the Fringe in August. I promise you that you will not be disappointed or fail to be enlightened.