The Blind Date Project - reviewby Frances Morton
November 5, 2014
Quick. Someone get Celery Productions an inner city space so they can transform Auckland’s night scene. With distressed gig posters, a glitter curtained karaoke corner, red light bulbs and opshop paintings, the creative gang (and brains behind Art in the Dark on next week) have set designed a dive bar in The Basement theatre that’s far more authentic than most of the slick, manufactured drinking holes around town. And they should hire Bryony Skillington to run the joint – she displays her impressive pipes on the karaoke machine as the audience takes their seats at The Karaoke Klub tables and later plays bartender with just the right dollop of disdain.
Our company for a night out at The Karaoke Klub is Anna, played by Natalie Medlock. She and Skillington are the only sure things about this Silo production. Each night Anna waits for a different blind date to arrive with no idea who – from a long roster of actors – is going to turn up for their one-night only appearance. Could it be Fasitua Amosa, Michael Hurst, Antonia Prebble, Matt Whelan? On opening night, in walks funnyman/writer Nic Sampson.
The bar design nails authenticity and the intention of the show is to elicit authenticity in performance as well. The set-up surely instils the actors with all the anxiety of a real date. They get their character descriptions by way of Tinder profiles shortly before the show and have free rein to improvise, tempered only by incoming messages from director Tanya Goldberg via mobile phone.
Silo has a history of throwing actors in the deep end. Last year’s brilliant White Rabbit, Red Rabbit also enlisted actors for one-night only surprise performances. While that show was exquisitely written, The Blind Date Project has no script and therefore is completely dependent on the actors’ performances on the night. Medlock and Sampson start off tentatively, hiding their giggles in their hands. Both are smart performers and when they warm up (and sink a few drinks) the exchange between them fires with laugh-out-loud moments. Medlock is tasked with driving the pace of the show. In tonight’s version, her Anna is a television production assistant fed up with her job with a torrid romantic history. Her line about downing wines to dissolve any self-doubt about wearing her pinching, strapless dress is hilariously genuine.
Sampson plays Boyd, a naïve baker from Hastings. There’s an attraction between the two from the start and while it’s fun to ride along on their meet-cute, there’s never any real tension or big character revelation. The danger in improvisation is that actors slump into stereotypes. It's not particularly believable that since Boyd is a farming boy from Hastings he’s a total innocent on sex/alcohol/women - as if only city dwellers get it on. This doesn’t gel at all with the fact he has a five-year-old son who keeps interrupting the date with phone calls.
The actors’ mobile phones bleep and ring throughout the play with directions from Goldberg. It’s a cunning method and fits perfectly with the blind date concept. Of course they’d be leaping on phones in such a moment of awkwardness. However, it would be nice to get a greater sense of what those directions actually are. At times they seem to barely affect the action. Chuck some more karaoke songs in there please director. Both actors superbly take to the microphone in character. Medlock sings a gawky-cool version of Tainted Love and Sampson nervously delivers Should I Stay Or Should I Go (his bumpkin Boyd has never heard of The Clash of course).
After an hour with dorky, likeable Anna and Boyd I find myself wishing for one of the other great actors listed on the programme to enter and disrupt the tone. The work only occasionally chimed with the authenticity it is seeking, yet this has got to be the most fun way to go on a blind date. The format has you clutching your drink and cringing with anticipation. Silo might just make a serial dater of me yet. With every night at the Karaoke Klub guaranteed to be completely different, one random hook-up is not enough.
Until November 29.
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