Phil Porter
nabakov and Soho Theatre
Crucible Studio, Sheffield

Lizzy Watts as Sophie and Thomas Pickles as Jonah Credit: Ludovic Des Cognets

Blink is a delightful short play which premièred in August 2012 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Playwright Phil Porter has extensive theatre credits and is particularly known for his plays for young people.

In an introduction to the published text, he talks about the kind of theatre that excites him, ‘Small detailed theatre about big political themes’. In this play he explores an apparent ‘mis-match of story and style’ which he thinks leads to ‘something pleasingly semi-ridiculous’.

The play was written while he was a member of The Soho Six, a group of commissioned writers attached to the Soho Theatre who were encouraged to write plays that reflected and fitted in with the theatre’s broader programme of comedy, cabaret and other forms of live performance. Consequently, Blink is unusual in being largely comprised of direct address of the audience by two characters, Sophie and Jonah, who also take on a number of supplementary roles, sometimes (interestingly) across gender.

Sophie and Jonah are solitary, dysfunctional young adults, who coincidentally share similar life experiences: each has watched a parent die of pancreatic cancer; each has inherited money (or the means to make it) which enables them to live independently while unemployed. Jonah eventually moves into the downstairs flat that Sophie is renting out.

Jonah’s upbringing in a ‘self-sufficient religious commune’ has turned him into a ‘watcher’ of other people. Employed as a night watchman for the Paythorne Presbyterians, he spent every night for five years on solitary watch peering into a camera zoom. ‘I’m telling you this’, to the audience, but also Sophie, ‘so you can see that keeping watch, it becomes a kind of habit for me’. Meanwhile, Sophie was ‘let go’ from a job with a software company because, ‘There’s a general perception that you lack visibility’. Later we learn that when Sophie looks in a mirror, ‘After a few seconds it’s like I start to fade. It’s like I’m disappearing’.

A relationship of a sort starts when Sophie puts the screen of a video baby monitor in Jonah’s room. Jonah can now watch Sophie; and being watched makes Sophie feel more solid. They are now able to do things, not together exactly, but in parallel, or at a little distance, as in different seats on the same bus.

What could have been heart-breaking story about two lonely people living on the outskirts of society, is transformed by Porter’s ‘mis-match of story and style’ into a gently comedic account of a relationship with all the rhythm of a wave breaking on a beach. The couple gradually approach one another, there is a crashing climax, then gradually they withdraw quite contentedly into their separate existences.

This is a skilfully constructed play with seamless glissandos from one setting to another and from the main characters to the secondary ones. The writing is humorous and charming and the use of metaphor strikingly original. ‘She flies through the air, blown on the wind like a carrier bag’. ‘He leaps like a fish and grabs the ball an inch from the grass’.

There are restrained performances from Lizzy Watts and Thomas Pickles, who present the life experiences of the central characters with unsentimental clarity and do full justice to the elegance and wit of the text. Hannah Clark’s economical and adaptable set and Joe Murphy’s unobtrusive direction help the action to flow, and establish just the right degree of objectivity in the presentation of this unusual story.

At the beginning of the play, Jonah tells us, ‘This is a true story, and it’s a love story. This is our love story. And what I want to tell you is this. Love is not a cast iron set of symptoms. Love is whatever you feel it to be’.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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