views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Blind Date
Jermyn Street Theatre
26th January 2015

★★★☆☆

Will Travis and Susan McArdle as Andrew and Angela

Photography provided by BiteBack Theatre

You don't have to be as bitter as Miss Havisham to state that dating is just painful. Come on, it's a fact of life. Love, once you find it, can be all hearts and roses, blah, blah, blah. It's the finding it part, the dating stage, which is truly hideous. In Dave Simpson's new play Blind Date, singletons Andrew (Will Travis) and Angela (Susan McArdle) turn to the internet to find their "perfect partner", determined not to settle for less. Even if they are both using fake profile pictures and lying through their teeth about who they are, what they do and what they like. Optimism and naivety - they have it.

Blind Date began life as a 15 minute short, then became part one of a double bill, then was fleshed out into this full-length version. It sounds like a stilted evolution and the end result does feel like a range of different ideas have been mixed up together over time, with more care given to some than others - not helped by the lengthy scene changes. The music choices from director Alice Bartlett are obvious but spot on (One is the Loneliest Number, In The Air Tonight) but taking so much time to move the action on does lead to a disjointed feeling with the pacing often uneven. It's an entertaining work-in-progress, but it's still a little rough around the edges.

Parts of the overly repetitive first half could be cut to tighten the plot without sacrificing the build up and in establish the connection between our hapless duo. We only need Andrew and Angela to finish each other's sentences a few times to figure out there's a connection there. The second starts stronger but toward the end Simpson loses impetus. When it comes to a light-hearted comedy, it's not necessarily bad if the audience can figure out what's coming next, but there is such a thing as being Captain Obvious.

Verity-May Henry and Drew Cain provide strong support as - well, everyone apart from the two protagonists (Henry plays five parts, Cain four), but they too could be better utilised. The restaurant scenes in particularly are very cringe-worthy, with (what I hope are deliberately bad) cheesy fake Italian accents. It would probably have worked better if the waiters stayed silent, letting their overblown expressions talk for them, and not distracting from the main characters' progression. As Andrew's best mate, Gary, and Angela's pal Carol, the two are given more rounded, more honest material to work with, and it's apparent exactly what the actors can pull off, given the opportunity.

For any Corrie fans, there are a few in-jokes regarding both McArdle and Travis's time on the Street (yes, that's where you know them from) but they will pass anyone by who didn't follow the latter's story arc at that time, and aren't essential to catch. Our cobbles couple play well against each other, but again, you do feel like they're being undersold by the writing and direction. You catch glimpses of vulnerability in both, but with chunky plastic spectacles and clearly fake wigs, they play caricatures of misfits rather than two lonely unlucky people genuinely just trying to find love and having a few misadventures on the way. I do think Simpson and Bartlett could bring out more emotional depth without losing the comedic bent.

When Angela and Andrew admit that they didn't message the other person after their first date because they're both too "shallow", some of this cartoon render falls away and you see them as real people with unrealistic expectations who are slowly coming to understand what exactly they can attain, and that actually, that sort of ordinary person-next-door isn't half bad. And when Andrew opens up about his first love, Judy (Cain), you do sympathise with his rejection and hurt.

Sitting through the show is a little awkward in places, and what you see isn't perhaps exactly what you would have wanted. As far as dates go, it's not exactly love at first sight, but you don't find yourself nipping to the toilets and trying to climb out a window, so that's a success of sorts. Charming in places, hackneyed in others, but certainly a story with warmth and potential.

Blind Date opened on 26th January and runs until 31st January 2015 at Jermyn Street Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Piccadilly (Piccadilly, Bakerloo)



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