Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Blindsided, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester, 8/2/14

The first time I ever visited the theatre solo was to see Simon Stephen's ‘On The Shore of The Wide world. It was set in my home town, and I was keen to see it, but couldn't get anyone to come with me, so I summoned up the courage to go alone. I remember being blown away by both the play, and the realisation that plenty of people go to the theatre on their own and nobody stares and points! That was probably the point my theatre interest tipped over the edge into a theatre obsession!

Stephens returns to a Stockport setting with this new play at the Royal Exchange. Set primarily in 1979 it focuses on the relationship between young teenage mum Cathy and newcomer John, both to some extent misfits from Society’s norms.  It has echoes of other plays of his I have seen set in Stockport, there are common themes of striving to escape from the mundane, of feeling trapped, although the 'escapes' are seldom successful!
This latest outing is a strange thing indeed. I can't quite make my mind up as to what the writer intended. The speech styles of the two main characters are stilted and un-naturalistic. Whilst this seems to work for the character of Cathy, a stream of consciousness whirlwind with no filter, portrayed in an outstanding performance by Katie West, I felt it was less successful with the character of John. Andrew Sheridan played the part excellently, but I found the character unconvincing and couldn't understand why he would exert such power over the ladies he came into contact with.
Rebecca Callard, as Cathy's best friend Siobhan, once again proved what an excellent stage actress she is, with a nicely balanced performance. The box office draw for the Exchange was of course Julie Hesmondhalgh, fresh from popping her clogs as the much loved Hayley in Corrie. She gave a fine performance of Cathy's mother, but I felt that the script only allowed her to really shine in the latter part of the play when she portrayed the older Cathy. I am very glad I have the opportunity to see her again in March in Black Roses at the Exchange studio.
The one character that I really didn't 'get' though was that of Issac, played by Jack Deam. I wasn't sure what the character added, and if I'm honest it felt like a waste of a good actor.
Despite usually avoiding reviews before I see a show, I did see a few negative comments about the play on the theatre's website, including complaints about the language. Personally, I didn't feel the swearing was an issue, and when it was used it wasn't out of place, particularly in the 1997 setting. To be honest, much as I detest it, liberal scattering of the F word is exactly how many Stopfordians speak. There were however a few directorial choices I had difficulty with. The treatment of the main sex scene uses a style I have seen used equally unsuccessfully in other plays, went on too long, and to be honest just made me want to giggle, albeit it was a brave and energetic portrayal by the actors. And there was a moment toward the end of the play involving water that made no sense to me at all.
The set design was stark and sparse, and I felt very effective in setting the mood of the piece. There did however seem to be numerous sight line issues, despite a number of seats having been deliberately not filled, leading to a lot of seating moves in the interval. The lighting was clever and striking, especially towards the end of the play when it threatened to upstage the action on the stage!
All in all, I felt this was an interesting and thought provoking play, and a good contrast to other recent offerings at the Exchange. There were some really strong performances, but on the whole, for me, the play didn't quite hold together as well as I’d hoped.


  1. Hello, Allison. I like your comments and agree with a great many of them – although I can’t agree with your comment ‘everyone's opinion is valid, just because someone did or didnt like something doesnt make them wrong’ Indeed, I wonder if you’re just being polite because it seems self-contradictory. One of the depressing things about the Royal Exchange website comments is that too many tend towards the ‘this was great/rubbish and I don’t know how anyone can criticise/praise it’ type. Such opinions are not valid in my view – or in yours, if the second part of your comment is any guide!

    Like you, I was rather unconvinced by Blindsided – especially by comparison with Punk Rock and Port. I wondered if it had been written in a hurry because the characterisation was very sketchy. Like you, I wondered why Cathy would have found John so attractive; but then I often wonder the same thing about real life couples. I suppose the answer is that these characters are not actually attracted to each other but are so egotistical that each uses the other merely as an expression of their obsession with themselves. The ultimate result is that when things don’t go as she wants Cathy is not driven either to submit to John or to reject him but, to heal her injured self-regard she destroys one of the two people she purports to love in order to punish the other. It’s a similar story to Jason and Medea but I’m afraid I’m old fashioned enough to need much more background for the narrative to be convincing. As I said on the RE site, we know more about what makes Harry tick than we know about Cathy or John.

    The sex scene struck me as rather silly. I wondered whether it was meant to emphasise the self-obsession of Cathy and John. To be honest, I find scenes of people shagging with their undies on rather ludicrous (either do it properly or shut the bedroom door and leave it implied I say) so doing it fully clothed and several feet apart from each other was just daft, unless the separation had a symbolic meaning.

    As for Isaac, I suspect he represented hope. The decent person willing to see good in people despite evidence to the contrary and to help people without expecting even common gratitude, let alone respect or reciprocation. I wonder, also, whether we weren’t meant to suspect his motivation. Were we supposed to conclude he had sexual designs on Susan, or even Cathy, and then feel ashamed of ourselves for being so cynical?

    Despite my slight disappointment with Blindsided I’m still looking forward to Simon Stephens’s next piece. I’ve liked most of his other stuff (I found his adaptation of A Doll’s House not to my taste – the Royal Exchange one by Bryony Lavery with Cush Jumbo as Nora was much better imo – but that might have been down to the director) so one disappointment won’t put me off.

    1. Thanks for your comments John. I really appreciate it when people take the time to comment and it doesnt happen that often! You raise some very interesting points, you have put a lot more thought into it than I had to be honest. I do have a bit of a problem with plays where I feel I need to Cliff Notes to understand what is going on. I've been told the water scene conveyed purification of Cathy's soul, but at the time I was just thinking 'what the heck is all that about'!
      I suppose that what I was trying to say in my comment on the RX theatre's website, possibly badly, was just becuase say I like a play and someone else hates it doesn' necessaily mean I'm right. I think it's very interesting the amount of differing views this play has attracted, and there were some fascinating interpretations, but I, like you was a little disappointed by it

    2. Well, I've bookmarked your blog now as it will clearly cover quite a few things I see myself, given that I go to a lot of theatre in the North West of England and on my monthly trips to London. For what it's worth, my interpretations are purely personal and, sometimes, quite fanciful. I don't worry too much about needing notes to understand plays. An insider let me in on something a couple of years ago: the 'official' interpretation of a play's symbolism often comes via critics who are briefed in advance by the production people. They're no more than food for thought and not necessarily more valid than the insights you get for yourself. I look forward to reading what you make of Orlando. I presume you'll be going to that as I spotted that, like me, you saw Suranne Jones as Marlene in Top Girls at the Trafalgar Studios.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.