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Blackout at The Vault Festival – Review

BlackoutI wondered if the alarm clock display on stage was accurate beyond the fourth wall. Not the time in the morning at which Blackout starts, but the temperature reading. Eighteen degrees Celsius seemed about right for the slightly chilly ‘vault’ at the Vault Festival. The show’s title does not mean the audience sits in the pitch black until someone fumbles around for a cigarette lighter and a candle – it’s a psychological thing. There are certain things that neither Murray (Ashley Byam) nor Jessica (Carrie Hill) can remember. What are those things? Firstly, that would be giving too much away. But more pertinently, if they themselves knew, then it naturally follows that their powers of recollection are stronger than they had perceived.

Is all revealed at the end? In a word, no. The slightly longer answer is that I was at a loss to decipher why events turned out the way they did. Not being the only person to come away with some unanswered questions, I’m quietly confident this production made for some interesting discussions between audience members on the way home. Both characters react to being in unfamiliar territory in the way in which one would reasonably expect them to, which adds more than a little eeriness in how remarkably talkative they are first thing in the morning. Then again, it’s one of those hour-long shows, so there’s little time to spare for this dynamic duo to be stretching and yawning.

The stage space was sometimes to the full a little too well, as some of the audience, sat on two sides of the stage as Members of Parliament sit in the House of Commons (though their seats are considerably more comfortable), must rely on peripheral vision and/or move their heads as though watching a tennis match, as the dialogue volleyed back and forth, back and forth, one character at one end of the stage, and the other at the other. Something just didn’t seem right: both hold suspicions of one another and claim they have never met before the previous night. And yet it is only in the dying moments of the play that any serious attempt by either party to leave the room is made.

Further, the range of topics and themes that come under discussion is extremely broad, and as a result, the dialogue lacks depth – a simple express wish not to talk about a certain subject anymore is, more often than not, sufficient for the matter to be dropped. Occasionally, though, Murray likes to press a point, particularly one about the lack of close affinity Jessica asserts she had with her late father.

The first half of the show would work just as well as a radio play, so vivid is the dialogue at describing almost everything. “It’s okay to smile,” quips Murray at Jessica – it would have been easy to imagine Jessica doing so if, for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to see what was going on. The same cannot be said for the second half, where the conversation becomes more passionate and yet more philosophical. It didn’t have the atmosphere of an early morning conversation – this was more akin to one of those late night discussions with others, speaking freely and proverbially putting the world to rights.

There’s humour, or to be more precise, there’s sarcasm. For reasons unexplained, there is no mobile telephone signal (or, presumably, Wi-Fi), and no landline for the pair to contact anyone outside. I shall leave it to others to determine whether this was a subliminal message about turning one’s phone off before a theatre performance starts. Either way, this production is brilliantly cast, with both actors very convincing in their roles. An intriguing and distinctly unpredictable play.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

He drinks a whisky drink, she drinks a vodka drink, he drinks a lager drink, she drinks a cider drink, he slurs something incomprehensible in her ear, she spits up a little bit of sick in her mouth. And then everything goes black.

Jessica and Murray think they’ve had a rough night…just wait until they see what the morning has in store for them.

Blackout explores the fallout of a booze-soaked, ill-conceived one night stand. Social façades are brutally stripped away leaving both characters exposed in ways they never thought possible. Loaded with a barrage of twists and turns, this is a show for anybody who enjoys their theatre wrapped in generous layers of spine-tingling suspense.

Writer Gavin J Innes
Director Katie-Ann McDonough
Producer Bridie Donaghy
Sound Ian Jackson
Images Matthew Higton

Murray Ashley Byam
Jessica Carrie Hill


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