views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Blessings
Camden People's Theatre
30th July 2018

★★★★☆

Publicity photo for Blessings

Photography provided by Morning People / 7th Function

I guess you could describe Blessings as a tale of boy meets girl, because boy does, in fact, meet girl. However, it would do the production a disservice to reduce it to such a simple synopsis. Trouble is, finding a better description isn't easy. Blessings is a non-linear timey-wimey melange of seemingly insignificant yet significant moments shared by young couple Chris (Alfie Jones) and Maria (Nancy Hall). You could interpret it in many different ways and to be honest, I'm not sure that writer and actor Jones has a fixed preference as to which truth you take away from his work. The winding ambiguity woven throughout it is a large part of its success.

Large chunks of the show consist of projected home-video style movies created by Jones and Lukje Davies and loud - often uncomfortably loud - pulsating, ethereal trance music that overwhelms our senses. Although there are some scenes where the video and live action are woven together, for the most part, they are quite separate. There's a sense that the company have been playing with ideas to see what sticks and whilst there is a distinctly experimental sense to the show, that's no bad thing. We switch between allowing the two-dimensional looped movement and throbbing music evoke pure, instinctive emotions and getting drawn into the detailed conversations from the live action performances of the two protagonists. This ever-changing, fluid style forces us to simply feel our way through the story, relying on our instincts to unravel what is real, what has happened and what could be. Rather than analyse what is going on in front of us, we feel.

The immediate magnetism between Chris and Maria's characters is evident. From the moment they meet, they're caught up in an oddly endearing cycle of non-stop verbal sparring. Chris is frequently distracted, going off on a tangent, and seems to have limited tolerance for people in general, making his fascination with Maria all the more curious. Maria's warmth and openness contrast and complement Chris's natural tendencies as she playfully encourages him to not let life pass him by and to engage with it with the same passion as she does. As much as Maria falls for Chris the way he is, she recognises that he needs additional support, whereas he sees his differences as worth celebrating, giving him a valuable and unique outlook. We empathise with both characters and find ourselves wondering whether love is enough to keep them together, watching and rewatching different scenes from their life together.

Even though parts of this show are so very light on dialogue - the first five minutes, for example, contain no words whatsoever - whenever Chris and Maria speak to each other, it's deliciously authentic and amusing in equal measure. Their conversations are richly written, as they debate the plain ridiculous to the existential. We find ourselves hugely invested in their connection, finding delight in some of their more key interactions because to us, these snapshots in time seem so utterly them. For the audience to feel like we know these two characters so intimately after such a fleeting period with them is a testament to the strength of the writing and acting. We sift through the out-of-sync scenes with Chris and we root for the couple, wanting their relationship to be real and enduring.

Pulling off a production like this takes some extraordinary vision and bravery. It touches on mental health without explicitly making it a play with an agenda, which adds to its authenticity. Blessings is a multidisciplinary, thought-provoking and intriguing show that leaves us thankful to have seen it. Do make sure to count your blessings - there's only one left before the current run closes.

Blessings opened on 30th July and runs until 31st July 2018 at Camden People's Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)



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