by Sarah Haley
“Love is whatever you feel it to be”. Or at least, that’s what Plosive Production’s latest show, Blink, tells you. Written by Phil Porter and directed by Teri Loretto-Valentik, Blink is both a heartfelt and an unsettling performance. However, calling it a love story is misleading. While it is true that the play sets up a strange and uncomfortable love story, it is about loss. It is not the grief of losing someone, but rather about the journey of learning and rehabilitation.
When Sophie’s father passes away from pancreatic cancer, she rents out the flat he owned to a man named Jonah. A complete stranger, Jonah has recently left his closed off religious community for London at the behest of his mother, who also passed away from pancreatic cancer. One of many coincidences, Jonah informs us. When Sophie’s depression spirals out of control, she anonymously delivers a tablet with a live feed of her flat to Jonah. Thus begins the voyeuristic love story that enraptures him.
The playwright also makes the audience voyeurs of this story, for example, by using a baby monitor to capture Sophie and Jonah in intimate and vulnerable ways. Furthermore, the audience is given the choice to look at the story presented in front of them on stage or at a much closer invasive footage that shines from the projection screens of wood above. The projections, designed by Fiona Currie, are also used to explore the story beyond the physical limitations of the space Farmland is filmed from inside a suitcase and the London skyline becomes the backdrop of a romantic quasi-date. These effects are well orchestrated, but it ofttimes conflicts with the lighting. When the lights grow brighter, it washes out the projections and diminishes their importance.
The voyeuristic elements of the story highlight the importance of thresholds and boundaries. Usually, crossing boundaries or thresholds represent growth or change of character. In Blink, it represents the characters’ growth and rehabilitation after loss, but it also represents the darker, more cautionary aspects of Jonah and Sophie’s relationship. The boundaries on the stage are clear: one side makes up Jonah’s flat and the other side is Sophie’s. Only rarely do they infringe on each other’s side, and when they do, it marks chaos. When Jonah crosses into Sophie’s space, he does so to help her. Despite his kindness and innocence, there is something deeply wrong with him inhabiting the world of someone he has never spoken to. The set, designed by David Whiteley (who also plays Jonah), encourages isolation. It is what spurs the story forward, but it also serves as a reminder of loss. The suitcases litter the set, as if to imply a journey that has just ended, or one about to begin. Just like the set, this story about love or loss remains in a state of flux.
As Sophie and Jonah, Gabriella Gadsby and Whiteley deliver strong and heartfelt performances. Both Gadsby and Whitely have good comedic timing, but what is most notable is Gadsby’s ability to shift characters quickly and competently. Sophie’s need to be seen is achingly familiar and Jonah’s overgrown schoolboy appearance is oddly endearing. The play itself could perhaps benefit from fleshing out these characters to a greater extent, but, overall, it is a fluid piece.
A play infatuated with the notion of audience, Blink masquerades as a charming oddball romance but it leaves the audience with a sickening sense of doubt. Perhaps we all want to be seen, to rehabilitate from a feeling of loss, but there are better ways to recuperate than others.
Written by Phil Porter
Directed by Teri Loretto-Valentik
Presented by Plosive Productions
April 5-14, 2018
Sarah Haley is a student at Carleton University. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with concentrations in Medieval Studies and Theatre.