Blink is a knot of a play. Filmed in black and white, and lasting nearly two hours, the production burrows deep into the complexities of grief, connection, and distance while still maintaining a sense of honesty throughout.
The play tells the story of Sophie Kissack and Jonah Jenkins, who each live alone in flats in London. They share eerily similar pasts of isolation and loss, and when Sophie sends Jonah a baby monitor screen, they grow close in a strange, morally ambiguous way. While the story arc seems to follow two people falling in love, it’s never sugary or straightforward. Instead, as the script says, it highlights that ‘love is whatever you feel it to be’ – and sometimes it’s messy, dark, and uncomfortable.
Speaking to the cast and creatives, I was struck by the amount of time and thought clearly put into the production. Describing themselves as a ‘closely-knit bubble’, the group had nuanced answers for every question I posed, never hesitant to examine their own dramatic choices. We began by facing the question posed to every piece of pandemic theatre: why now? With Blink, there were endless answers to choose from. Producer and co-director Louis Cunningham was quick to mention ‘solitude and connecting through screens’, which was also the first thought that came to me on the subject. The script has a remarkable amount of parallels with our emotional responses to the pandemic, and there’s a fun sense of the ‘meta’ that comes from watching a production about voyeurism and screens on a laptop .
The cinematography of the production is so polished, especially considering this is a piece of student drama from a very small team: the group refer to Director of Photography Micheal-Akolade Ayodeji as some kind of magical figure, but his wizardry does come across in the show. Two sequences in particular stand out: an intimate scene in which the two characters ride the London Eye, and the dramatic, sensory climax of the first act. While every so often it felt to me that the cinematography was doing very slightly too much, it was hugely impressive throughout.
While talking about the way the show has been shot in black and white, Louis and co-director Maggie Moriarty cite Malcolm and Marie, the film released earlier this year, as an influence. Maggie talks about how the black and white gives a ‘sense of timelessness’, which I definitely felt, while Louis explains that the other element they took from the film was ‘the nature of being unsure about it’. It’s this idea that makes Blink so fascinating: there’s always something that feels slightly off about the characters, and their actions are at times very morally grey. While in other productions this would feel like a flaw, it is Blink’s greatest strength: the production revels in uncertainty and ambiguity.
Pip Lang and Gabe Winsor, as Sophie and Jonah respectively, give nuanced, intricate performances throughout. Gabe has a remarkable authenticity and naturalness, while Pip charts her character’s transitions from stillness to emotional outburst in a way that’s constantly captivating to watch; she’s clearly thought about every detail, from lip wobbles to hand gestures. Speaking to the actors, I learnt about the challenges of getting across such complicated characters on screen: Pip described forming an ‘intimacy with the camera’, while Gabe summarised the process as a ‘lovely kind of dance’. We also spoke about the multi-roling, one of the few aspects of the piece I wasn’t initially sold on: speaking to the team, however, it’s grown on me. It forces us to question how and why this narrative is being told, as the moments where the fourth wall is broken are always clearly deliberate. One of the most interesting parts of our conversation is a discussion about the way storytelling works in this play, with regard to how the characters exchange control of the narrative.
This is the question lying at the heart of the script. Playwright Phil Porter asks theatremakers to consider ‘why these characters are telling this story out loud and to whom they are speaking’ – throughout the piece, the characters address the audience (or in this case, camera) directly, framing the story like an interview of some kind. While I was very interested to learn the team’s response to this question, I won’t share it here: the play is more fun to watch when the question of the mechanics is left unanswered, as the ambiguity of the role of the camera becomes a tool for audiences to interrogate the character dynamics.
Towards the beginning of our meeting, Louis described the production as ‘a kind of circus act between two people, of juggling all these emotions and arguments and sentiments’. It is this which best sums it up. While the aesthetic choices may be far removed from the idea of a circus, the play is defined by that same sense of quirkiness, instability and fascination. I’d watch Blink over a tightrope act any day.
Blink will be online at 7:30pm on the 14th and 15th May 2021.
Get your tickets here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/frangipane/e-zjoplj
Image Credit: Micheal- Akolade Ayodeji