views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Hope Theatre
20th November 2014


Kim Maouhoub, Mark Jeary, Beth Kovarik, Sarah Barron and Rory Fairbairn as Eight Years, Old Timer, Six Years, One Year and Newcomer

Photography provided by The Hope Theatre

The problem with playwrights basing their work on their own tragedies and struggles is that sometimes you feel like you're judging the individual behind the production rather than the production itself. Blackout is a semi-autobiographical affair and perhaps more personal than most: it's a tale of alcohol abuse written by a recovering addict based on his own experiences as well as those of others. Mark Jeary has put a lot of himself into Blackout and thankfully, the script has become the stronger for it. Could have easily gone the other way.

A cast of five play recovering alcoholics at different stages in their journey. There's a newcomer (Rory Fairbairn), a woman one year into recovery (Sarah Barron), six years (Beth Kovarik), eight years (Kim Maouhoub) and an old timer (Jeary himself). Director Gavin Curtis brings out the warmth in these protagonists and we find ourselves empathising with them, seeing the people rather than their condition.

And we see the people we do - Barron's character recognises she is a terrible mother and that awareness is excruciatingly sad. She laughs and jokes in her thick Glaswegian brogue and she's very likeable, but her stories are not. Her eyes reveal how she feels about what she's done and how she's failed her son. Kovarik's character on the other hand has wanted to be a mother, and her tragedy is the opposite. The newcomer shares some laughs with us, but isn't hardened enough yet to be as flippant as the others, unable to make dark jokes and not be affected by them. His fragility so close to the surface of the banter is upsetting to observe.

The script is very wordy, and given Blackout is only about an hour long, it's an achievement that Jeary has managed to pack so much in. He fleshes out each character well but it's the movement rather than the dialogue which hits hard. As the actors breathe in unison and the lights fade, there's a wonderful serenity in the shared blackouts. Markus Tarasenko Fadum brings a delicate poignancy to his lighting design; it's as if in these moments the addicts all find some kind of peace. This contrasts with the frantic energy in the rest of the show as the protagonists dart back and forth, almost dancing around the stage, switching positions so no matter where you're sat, you get to spend time with them all.

The back wall is decorated in colourful panels which pick out some of the same bright colours in the shirts worn by the actors. For such a grim subject, there's some fun music choices and an exuberance as the addicts move around. They've all hit rock bottom - they wouldn't be sharing a therapy session otherwise - but the point is they're in recovery. There is some levity and there is some joy because they're turning their lives around, one day at a time. This play isn't just about how awful alcoholism is, it's about how great coming out the other side is too. There's more of a balance to the writing.

Blackout is gritty, raw and honest - but it leaves you with a sense of hope, perhaps fitting given the venue's name. Drink is a cruel master, and Jeary never shies away from this brutal reality, not only highlighting each character's good points but also their flaws. Some of their actions are shocking however they're more than who they are when they're drunk, and they've all been on the wagon for a while now anyway. Who the bottle makes them is not who they want to be and they're all trying hard to stay clean. Surprisingly uplifting for such bleak material.

Blackout opened on 18th November and runs until 6th December 2014 at the Hope Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Highbury & Islington (Overground, Victoria)

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