wed 30/09/2020

Blindsided, Royal Exchange, Manchester | reviews, news & interviews

Blindsided, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Blindsided, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Simon Stephens returns to Stockport to measure 18 years of Conservative rule

Corrosive: Andy Sheridan and Katie West in 'Blindsided'Kevin Cummins

There’s no place like home – and home for writer Simon Stephens is Stockport. He doesn’t live there any more, but he was born there in 1971 and still finds the place, particularly its seedier side, a rich source of emotionally charged material. So, having started life less than 10 miles from the Royal Exchange, he keeps coming back. This is the fourth play he has written for the theatre, starting with Port in 2002.

There’s no place like home – and home for writer Simon Stephens is Stockport. He doesn’t live there any more, but he was born there in 1971 and still finds the place, particularly its seedier side, a rich source of emotionally charged material. So, having started life less than 10 miles from the Royal Exchange, he keeps coming back. This is the fourth play he has written for the theatre, starting with Port in 2002.

That play dealt with Rachael, a girl growing up there in potentially crushing circumstances, but somehow finding within herself the spirit to escape, at least for a while. His latest take on the theme, Blindsided, being given it world premiere here, is raw yet romantic. He brings together mundanity and menace. The story is of another young girl, 17-year-old Cathy, growing up in a downbeat area with her mum and already a single mother herself, and falling in love with John, a young man who turns out to be charismatic, manipulative yet degenerative. Within minutes of meeting, they are simulating noisy, orgasmic, writhing sex. Signs of things to come.

The play builds slowly, too slowly at first, to its shocking climax

The action stretches over nearly two decades, from Stockport in 1979 to the Isle of Man in 1997, from the beginning of the Thatcher reign to the birth of New Labour. The political background matters. When they meet by chance in the street, John, a workshy petty burglar claiming to be a trainee accountant, pretends to be canvassing for Tory votes, giving mouthy Cathy the chance to sound off about Conservatives. By the end, older and wiser, she says in hope, “The country’s changing – Tony Blair might be alright,” which raised a laugh in the theatre.

Stephens’s writing, with its non sequiturs, black humour and a sense of impending violence, at times has shades of Pinter and Orton. John is always threatening to smash people up, though he never does. The early dialogue between Cathy and John is stilted and there’s an awkwardness about their movement.

Designer Anna Fleischle’s set doesn’t help. It consists of concrete blocks, platforms and pillars, truly reflecting the present-day characterless Merseyway shopping precinct in the centre of Stockport. Like a broad concrete catwalk across the theatre, with the audience on both sides, it serves for all scenes, from a series of flats to Blackpool to the Isle of Man. So, there is no sense of place, no atmosphere.

Under Sarah Frankcom’s direction, the play builds slowly, too slowly at first, to its shocking climax, where Cathy wreaks terrible revenge on John’s betrayal. But even that dread moment seems muted here. In the central roles, Katie West and Andrew Sheridan build their corrosive relationship with telling effect, from young lust to co-habitational tolerance until deception creeps in. Julie Hesmondalgh (pictured above) is workmanlike as Cathy’s long-suffering widowed mum, Susan. Rebecca Callard is a neat foil as Cathy’s “friend” Siobhan and Jack Deam provides a more normal character as Susan’s man friend, Isaac.

The very short second act ties up a few loose ends unconvincingly as Cathy, now in her thirties (played by Hesmondalgh) and rebuilding her life on the Isle of Man, is visited by John’s foul-mouthed 17-year-old son Harry (Sheridan). For all the nastiness, anger and violence, there is, it seems, optimism, hope and reconciliation, with Cathy still professing her true love for John.  Perhaps Stephens is just an old romantic at heart, even though he likes to shock us.

Stephens’s writing, with its non sequiturs, black humour and a sense of impending violence, at times has shades of Pinter and Orton

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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