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Review of Flinch by Emma Hemingford at the Old Red Lion Theatre

FlinchJess (Emma Hemingford) has written a play about her and Mark (Joseph Reed). Or, to put it another way, Hemingford has written a play, Flinch, in which (in this production, at least) she is an actor playing an actor who has written another play about the same two people that Flinch is about. Or is it the same play? The jury is out on that one, because Mark doesn’t want to read it, so neither he nor the audience find out. A third character, known only as Mugger (Andrew Armitage), is probably better-termed Prankster, though Jess doesn’t take too kindly to the play’s critical incident, which leaves a permanent mark on what appeared to be a fledgling relationship.

There are people who move in together as early in life as Jess and Mark do, but it is relatively rare that young love lasts the course. I wonder how many ruby, golden and diamond wedding anniversaries there will be a generation or two from now, for instance. Fundamentally, despite an invitation for openness and honesty, Mark isn’t entirely upfront about the couple’s London living arrangements. Jess reacts vigorously after she finds out what Mark didn’t tell her, and there is indeed no telling what other skeletons lurk in the cupboard.

The set is on two levels, with a large step separating the lower from the upper, and a dinner table at an angle striding both (the leg lengths are shorter on the higher level). There are two chairs, one on each level, which was a rather elaborate – and not strictly necessary – way of saying whoever is sat up above is in a greater position in terms of power and authority. In the final scene, the narrative dictates that both parties are of equal influence, so both chairs are on the upper level. Is it clever? Is it crass? Perhaps it’s a bit of both.

The play starts off being very convincing, with the stilted awkwardness of Jess approaching a subject with some sensitivity but without knowing what exactly to say and how to say it being quite palpable. But the ‘known unknowns’, to quote the former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the things either party to this relationship know they don’t know much about, remain unresolved, and the narrative starts going round in circles, broken only by an almost inevitable confrontation between people that tried hard, perhaps too hard, to keep some decorum and civility going.

The cynic in me wonders why these millennials didn’t just Google “what do I want from this relationship”, or otherwise ‘ask Siri’ – Jess and Mark are rather old-fashioned in their habit of using their mobile telephones primarily for making and receiving calls. Then again, while the play could do with a little trim, resolving matters by way of an unscientific internet quiz is not something theatre audiences are going to take seriously, and rightly so.

Seriousness, of course, isn’t everything: there are comedy elements in the show, though the style of the play overall makes it just as suitable, if not more so, as a television sitcom. You know the ones, with canned laughter and punchlines galore, but also with a punchy enough storyline to maintain interest. The dynamics of this relationship are quite fascinating, particularly for people like me who utterly adore doing their own thing without a significant other – and I suspect elements of the play are recognisable for other millennials who have themselves attempted a DMC (a term I came across in the Urban Dictionary, an acronym for a Deep and Meaningful Conversation).

Instructions to “look at me” pepper the play to the point where I started to wonder whether Derren Brown was about to make a guest appearance. Elsewhere, the play’s treatment of a series of incidents with a director interested in working with Jess could have been explored with more depth. As the focus is on Jess’ relationship with Mark, a (presumably unintended) consequence is that Jess’ unpleasant experiences outside their flat are portrayed as some of many things that happened in Jess’ very eventful life, as opposed to something that needed to be reported at the very least. An intriguing response to some very pertinent issues in contemporary society, this is a well-acted and well-written play.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Jess is an actor, or will be, as soon as she hears back from her latest audition. Mark works in the City, a trader who feels he’s never really been ‘pick of the bunch’. The pair are a little under-ripe, but definitely fine almost some of the time, until the night they have an experience that threatens to peel away everything they thought they knew. The fallout from this slip-up probes the extent to which we are accountable for our reflexes – and why some things make us go bananas.

A raw, discomfiting comedy about gender roles; Flinch takes an unabashed look at emasculation, failure and the struggle for intimacy.

From emerging company Sounds Like Thunder who have just returned from a sell-out, 5* run at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival of their show Kidding.

With support from the Split Infinitive Trust.

CAST
MARK: JOE REED
JESSICA: EMMA HEMINGFORD

TEAM
DIRECTED BY ROSALIND BRODY
WRITTEN BY EMMA HEMINGFORD
PRODUCED BY LEILA SYKES
ASSISTANT PRODUCER MARIE-ELENA NASH
ARTWORK BY LAURA WHITEHOUSE

Age guidance: 14+ (Contains adult themes, including references to sex and mild swearing)
Running time: 75 mins approx.
Tuesday 28th May – Saturday 15th June 2019
https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/

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