A reviews round-up for Blackout Songs at Hampstead Theatre in London.
Channel 4 Playwriting Award winner Joe Wright (Mayfly) brings his new play Blackout Songs to Hampstead Theatre, directed by Guy Jones (Mayfly, Either).
The cast includes Alex Austin (I Hate Suzie, Sky; Gundog, Royal Court) and Rebecca Humphries (Ten Percent, Amazon Studios; Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre).
The story centres on a chance encounter at an AA meeting: Him and Her are drawn to one another, into a crazy passionate bond. Then later, once they’re drinking again, they both have this almost-feeling that they might have met before – could even have been together, sometime in the past… Obviously that’s impossible, so they must be thinking of somebody else. They should really get sober together and figure it out: that would be a worthwhile project. Maybe they will – just after one last quick drink…
Blackout Songs is playing at Hampstead Theatre until 10 December 2022.
"A dark, witty, indispensable drama (at a theatre the Arts Council completely stripped of funding)"
"Joe White’s new play, at Hampstead, is a potent, witty, brilliantly acted two-hander about the effects of alcoholism"
"... it’s alcoholic black-outs that form the focus of White’s potent (almost song-less) two-hander, which occupies Hampstead’s downstairs studio but could easily migrate to a larger stage despite its woozy intimacy and breathy nuance."
"Over 90 minutes, which can start to feel like a small eternity, we’re drawn into their psycho-drama of longing, need and mutually reinforced patterns of behaviour – months hurtle by, they pull apart, reunite for one last glug. It’s a familiar subject redolent, say, of Blake Edwards’s 1962 film Days of Wine and Roses, yet the livewire approach, accentuated by interludes of unpredictable movement, feels fresh, their co-dependency in a pas de deux with the grip of the hard stuff."
"Drunk and disorderly exploration of love and addiction"
"Joe White’s romantic tragedy is a brave and original depiction of the hedonistic excess and inner battles of a co-dependent couple struggling with alcoholism"
"This is a drama about love while in the grip of addiction and this pair (we never learn their names) grow on us, and grow in depth too."
"Blackout Songs has much to say on mutual addiction: the pair’s compulsion to keep drinking is caught up with creativity for him, a rebellion against “normality” for her. She feels her “real” self to be indelibly entwined with her alcoholism and this becomes the big inner battle. This is brave and original writing, hard-edged and unsentimental one minute, heart-meltingly warm the next. A funny kind of romantic tragedy that becomes compulsive to watch."
"This exploration of alcoholism is a frustrating mixed bag"
"The writing is intelligent, the performances strong, but the characters’ lack of external life and no reliable inner existence, makes the play suffocating"
"Booze is the fuel that propels and consumes a toxic romance in Joe White’s frustrating mixed bag of a play. Confusion and repetition are built into the script: the two characters are alcoholics who frequently misremember or reinvent their shared history."
"It’s a skillful expression of the confusion that blackout drunks might feel, and White also powerfully shows how the couple enable and sabotage each other. He’s good, too, on the love-hate relationship addicts have with their thrall, and on the realities of alcoholism: the jaundice, the jitters, the organs poisoned from within. But there’s also a whiff of sexism to his writing..."
"The writing is intelligent, the performances strong. But the characters have little external life and no reliable inner existence. This makes the play suffocating."
"Hypnotic performances lift a tale of alcoholic destruction"
"A bleak exercise in self-deception, then; yet what gives momentum to Guy Jones’s production are the hypnotic performances, especially from Rebecca Humphries"
"White and Jones — who previously collaborated on the acclaimed pastoral drama Mayfly at the Orange Tree Theatre — cleverly avoid showing us the lurid reality of drunkenness. On Anisha Fields’ spartan traverse set, the mayhem and the disorientation are stylised and discreet. There is only the occasional glimpse of a bottle. Most of the chaos happens inside these people’s heads."
"Joe White’s drama about an alcoholic couple spiralling out of control is best at its bleakest and weirdest"
"Joe White’s intriguing new play is basically a romcom... but a messy one, a pissed-up one, one whose protagonists’ memories are blurred by days and nights of blackout drinking."
"But instead of starkness, ‘Blackout Songs’ is a play that increasingly delights in ambiguity: the same incidents recur in different forms, rippling through their liquifying memories."
"White’s games with memory and perception are the most exciting thing about this play, so it’s a shame that he ultimately abandons them in favour of a more straightforwardly tragic ending, one that this play's 95-minute running time takes a little too long to arrive at. Still, it's an intriguing follow-up to his breakout ‘Mayfly’, and a crushing reminder of the ugliness that follows a love affair with booze."
"Sharp and jagged dialogue"
"Two-hander of love and addition has a sour potency"
"This new two-hander by Joe White captures that queasy, morning-after doubt and anxiety gut-churningly well, along with the hedonistic excess and euphoria of the night before. Directed with a nervy energy by Guy Jones, it’s a stumbling odyssey through a mutually destructive relationship that feeds, vampire-like, on addiction."
"... it has a sour tang of authenticity, with unstinting performances from Alex Austin and Rebecca Humphries, hurling themselves into both the sloppy sensuality of drunken delirium and the grim, knuckle-gnawing comedown."
"Yet at its best, the writing is arresting: there’s a savage hilarity to the dialogue, which is as sharp and jagged as smashed glass. And however well we know this story’s taste, it has a bitter kick to it."
"Witty and toxic show at Hampstead Theatre"
"... this drama about addiction is witty, warm and unpredictable, combining classic romcom with a freewheeling narrative that plunges the audience into the hedonism of the couple’s binges."
"The painful truth of that toxic co-dependency sits at the heart of the piece. Its impact lies in the combination of the instant buzz of individual scenes and a splintered structure that gradually draws us into the damage wrought by the couple’s addiction."
"Guy Jones’s production crackles with edgy energy, played out on Anisha Fields’ set of chairs, which suggest so many hazy locations"
"An intoxicating journey into addiction"
"Joe White's scorching new play deals with alcohol addiction"
"It is also incredibly funny, until it isn't. What seems giddy and superficial gradually sneaks under your skin leaving indelible scars; she has a callous fling with another man, he is given months to live.With nothing more than a few chairs to move around, Humphries and Austin deliver performances of amazing physical dexterity, psychological nakedness and intoxicating conviction."