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Blackout written by Poppy Abbott at Theatre503

With a play called Blackout at Clapham’s Theatre503 and another one called Blackout Songs at Hampstead, you could reasonably start thinking that ‘tis the season to be sozzled.

Blackout written by Poppy AbbottBoth concern alcohol addiction and the bouts of amnesia which stalk that condition. Though I haven’t seen Joe White’s highly praised drama in north London, I gather that it focuses on a couple in which each becomes the object of the other’s unhealthy obsession. Codependence is the grimly fashionable word to describe such a state of affairs.

There are symptoms of something similar in Poppy Abbott’s two-hander in the intimate performance space above the Latchmere pub in Battersea Park Road. On such nights as these, the place is truly a game of two halves, with an irrepressible crowd glued to the knockout stages of the World Cup and, just up the private-looking stairs into the theatre, two thirty-ish flat-sharers, Tilly and JJ locked into their own rivalries and wild fantasies. Matters of life and death? Well, to quote great soccer manager Bill Shankly when asked the same question about football: “Oh no, much more important than them.

We take our seats in the audience – if that is what we are – as guests in what turns out to be a bit of a party. The two hostesses greet and walk among us with a whoopy range of welcoming noises. They both have placards hanging on their fronts saying “Single.” As if we were in any doubt.

A man in the front row, evidently not a plant, is called up to join in what doesn’t quite turn out to be fun. He is quizzed on such notionally private matters as his approach to childcare and his potential willingness to put himself through trauma therapy. Plainly he is being auditioned for fatherhood. He is thanked, dispensed with, and returns to his seat. They continue to swap their edgy intimacies, with the spectre of ageing childlessly – i.e. becoming thirty without a man – looming like an ugly gatecrasher.

They interrogate their dating apps and comment on their findings. “Oh no, not him – too like Prince Andrew” gets the biggest laugh. The boozy bash fades away and we are left with the two Millennials, and they with us. What emerges is a series of self-revelations in varying stages of inebriation. The levels of candour go up as the wine goes down, and in time we are presented with what appears to be the real villain of the piece. We should have sensed it all along. It’s alcohol – nothing more and nothing less. This is the presence – though ultimately more an absence – that has been infecting them for longer than they have let on. It has been inflating their grandiosity, filling them with distorted self-mirroring and finally leaving them beached in a place of useless remorse. When they round on each other, it is as if they are unleashing the dogs by which they themselves have been savaged.

A kind of awakening emerges, even though this arrives rather as a nightmare arrives – suddenly and non-negotiably. There is a bag with blood in it. What on earth is it doing here? There is also a large-bladed dagger. The B-word of the play’s title has robbed them of any memory that might help them piece together the events of the preceding hours. Have they in fact killed someone? Is it that man they were talking about, or someone else? Are their lives in fact over, even before they have given birth themselves?

Being the author of the piece, Poppy Abbott inhabits the life of the often desperate Tilly with awesome conviction, with Emma Hodgkinson’s JJ a glorious mix of support and helplessness. It’s a strange comedic hour’s worth, dark and driven but then redeemed from its own worst nature by the spectre of hope. For a play largely and intentionally adrift on an ocean of blurred vision, this one hangs onto an alarmingly tight focus.

4 stars

Review by Alan Franks

Hangxiety, The Fear, Sunday Scaries – all the while handling the patriarchal pressures of being 30 and single. A story of friendship, fuck ups and female power: join Tilly and JJ as they simultaneously screw the system and their livers.

Tilly and JJ have different approaches to dealing with turning 30 and finding themselves single. Tilly feels left behind from the rest of her peers, whilst JJ enjoys the freedom of being alone. However, they have one thing in common – they both love to drink.

The play explores how the girls cope with dating as Millenials, pressures of fertility, societal expectations of femininity – and their exquisite ability to both get completely blackout drunk. Everyone does it, right? So what’s the problem?

But what happens when something terrible happens during a blackout night that neither of them can remember?

WRITER Poppy Abbott
PRODUCER Gabriella Sills

TILLY Poppy Abbott
JJ Emma Hodgkinson
JONO Stuart Ash

Untamed Productions and Theatre503 present
Written by Poppy Abbott

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  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.org/

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