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Block’d Off – Pleasance Courtyard – Edinburgh Fringe

There’s a fairly complex web of storylines that once seen, cannot be unseen: a group of neighbours live together in a tower block, each with their own unique set of circumstances and personal challenges. Occasionally, there’s something to celebrate but otherwise, it’s hard graft for those for whom it is hard graft, and apparent help of various kinds – not necessarily from the state – for those for whom it isn’t. Then there’s the matter of personal perceptions and assumptions, and the brutal truth is that, however much people try to be respectful of one another, they have a tendency to seep through somehow.

Block'd Off - Credit Andrew Perry.
Block’d Off – Credit Andrew Perry.

It feels as though Camila Segal voices the characters of an entire tower block (in hindsight, of course, she doesn’t), and while this portrays quite accurately what it is like for people to live both literally and figuratively on top of one another, the show bites off more than it can chew. This was even apparent after the show: on the way out, the team were particularly keen for me to scan a QR code, which links to a 13-minute video that itself is largely comprised of snippets from various longer videos, documentaries and interviews covering drug dealing, gang culture and what people to do try to escape from such lifestyles, and why it’s so difficult to do so.

Too much ground is covered too quickly. The video, like the play proper, covers a lot of issues very briefly but doesn’t explore any of them in sufficient depth. On stage, there’s a shrine to someone presumably recently deceased, though it is barely referred to in the play, and there are entire scenes where the shrine is not directly connected to what’s going on. Perhaps a bit more in the way of set and props may have helped, as everyone’s living space looks exactly the same, and although Segal valiantly switches from character to character and back again, it wasn’t always immediately clear which flat a given scene was set. And, without being too uncouth, let’s just say some accents are more on the mark than others.

I suppose it helps if, like me, one comes from London and has some knowledge of what it’s like in these tower blocks. I suppose it’s probably not too dissimilar from the lives of people in tower blocks elsewhere. The show has potential, but less really can be more sometimes, and a focus on, for example, the obstacles older people living in cities face daily, or the struggle of a younger character trying to find a better life for herself, would make the show more engaging. And if it takes a series of plays to tell each character’s story, then that will keep writer Kieton Saunders-Browne occupied for some time.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

A father putting his hopes on his daughter’s future. A couple of dealers attempting to flee the country. A tutor manipulating his way to normality. A florist always running from brutality.
Another young boy, stabbed too close to home.
The production considers how people can so easily be considered nameless, only known by their titles or jobs. Block’d Off brings these people to life in an accurate and truthful way looking at how working class struggles can be universal, connecting many different people. Block’d Off is an eternal story about the human condition.

Block’d Off
Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs), 60 Pleasance, Edinburgh, EH8 9TJ
Wednesday 3rd – Monday 29th August 2022

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