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The Blue Whale at The Space | Review

Lewis (Sam Bush) has, at least when in the pub with his best friend Karl (Chris Ablitt), an inflated confidence about him, particularly when it comes to his personal life. But with yet another failure at a relationship, Karl asks him to consider whether he is simply “intrinsically repellent to women”, a jibe both at Lewis and at the sort of tactics certain men can’t help but deploy in their quest for a lover. Lewis is prone to lying (not that he would call it that) about one thing, which leads to another lie to cover up the first, and so on. It’s only a matter of time before the other person, whoever she is, finds out, and at that point, any chance of a relationship is well and truly incinerated.

The Blue WhaleI suppose on one level it’s only natural to want to impress someone. The lengths Lewis goes to are not untypical, and usually involve pretending to have mutual interests, until such time as he meets Tasha (Natalie Bonavia) online. What does it mean when a man says to a woman that he would do anything for her? Tasha puts this to the test, and successfully strings Lewis along, consistently playing hard to get, and drip-feeding personal information every time he agrees to do something. He’s hooked, and in the quest to know rather more than what her star sign or ‘spirit animal’ is, he continues to do what he’s asked, however stringent her rules of engagement are.

This eventually poses problems, because some of the tasks (or ‘challenges’, as Tasha calls them) land Lewis in trouble of various kinds. Tasha, for reasons eventually revealed in the play (but alas, not here), knows far more about Lewis than she let on, and is able to exploit his weaknesses, vulnerabilities and naivety accordingly. The results are sometimes ridiculous, and for the audience at least, darkly amusing. Laughing at Lewis rather than with him only adds to the gallows humour feel of this production, and the plot doesn’t entirely make sense until the narrative threads are put together in the closing moments.

Interestingly, the play exploits the audience’s relative naivety, too. There’s hearty laughter, for example, at Lewis not being able to run a mile in under ten minutes the first time around. But, as a medically reviewed article points out, “If you’re new to running, you might run one mile in closer to 12 to 15 minutes as you build up endurance”, which is exactly what Lewis does. The set is kept uncluttered, with only what is absolutely needed as props, which would make this a good show to take on tour – it was never difficult to tell, partly thanks to the dialogue, whether Lewis was online with Tasha, at the pub or at, say, a corner shop.

Much is made in the show’s programme of the show having been developed in Gibraltar (all of the actors have previously appeared in productions on the Rock), although the themes of loyalty and personal sacrifice in the name of love mean the play could be set almost anywhere. Julian Felice, the writer, has his reasons for setting it in Orpington – and at the risk of setting the proverbial cat amongst the equally proverbial pigeons, Lewis tells Tasha it is in Greater London (technically true) rather than Kent. Rarely comfortable viewing, the show is gritty and engaging in its approach to the contemporary issues it tackles. I’ve never indulged in online dating, and having seen this production, I’m not going to any time soon.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Loser-in-love Lewis has met a girl online. Eager to prove himself, he accepts her proposal to take part in a game where she presents him a series of challenges. As the challenges escalate, so do the stakes, placing Lewis in conflict with those closest around him.A story of love, relationships and desperation in an online world.

Writer: Julian Felice
Director: Julian Felice
Performers: Chris Ablitt, Natalie Bonavia, Sam Bush
Technician: Emma De Cruce

The Blue Whale
The Space
269 Westferry Road, E14 3RS
23 FEB – 25 FEB 2023
https://space.org.uk/

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