Tilly (played by Poppy Abbott) and JJ (played by Emma Hodgkinson) invite the audience into their chaotic lives of drinking, dancing and disarray as soon we enter the theatre, by complementing our outfits, offering card readings and making sure we all have a drink. Blackout explores what it means to be a single woman in your thirties when getting married and having children seems out of reach.
Abbott and Hodgkinson’s characters present a charming friendship full of support, laughter, sharing and for most of the play is one that every woman strives for. Through the ups and downs it feels like the only stability in their lives are one another. However, there are moments that fracture this which is a shame. Sometimes the comedic form blunts the empowering aim, for example when Tilly and JJ engage in a physical fight that plays into a stereotype of women becoming hysterical or jealous over a man. This along with other scenes wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test. Despite this, the use of space and set on stage was used effectively, with a sofa as the centre point to establish the girl’s flat, as well as to comfort their persistent hangovers. Levels are used to distinguish their rowdy nights out, with two side tables in the flat becoming Tilly and JJ’s platform for shots, dancing to their favourite female hits and singing their hearts out. Movement and music are successful in creating an immersive sense of their clubbing adventures, as well as providing laughs from their drunk expressions and conversations. Literal blackouts are used as a motif with a change of lights and sound to end their nights out, in order to transition into the ‘morning after.’
Tilly’s character offers a deeper conflict to the play, a struggling fertility story, however, it felt like a plot device that was never fully explored despite the opportunity to give voice to this taboo topic. More than anything, I leave with confusion, is this an empowering story about single women who don’t abide to the conventional milestones? Yet the characters spend so much time emphasising how single and unhappy they are that they turn to reckless optimism (in form of manifesting a future of happiness) and alcoholism.
Blackout succeeds in its energy, comedy and introduction to basic feminist ideas. At the heart of this story is the potential for empowerment and acceptance for women to not live their life by society’s standards. With more thought for what the audience should take away from this play and what elements of the characters are important to delve into further, this piece could be meaningful as well as fun.
Review: Isabelle Tyner