“This is our love story….love is not a cast iron set of symptoms. Love is whatever you feel it to be”. So runs the opening lines of Blink, and therein lies the beauty of Phil Porter’s two-hander, now touring after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012 and in London late last year. For this is indeed a love story, but in no way a conventional one.
While ‘quirky’ is a much used trope when it comes to the rom-com, Blink goes further. It’s both romantic and funny, but also deeply poignant and raw. Porter tells the story of Jonah and Sophie, two lonely, eccentric people living in London and searching for some kind of connection. Both have lost a parent to pancreatic cancer and are finding different ways to deal with their loss. In Sophie’s case, this involves posting the video monitoring system she bought to take care of her ailing father in his final days to Jonah, who just happens to be her tenant in the house in which they both live.
For Jonah, who was brought up on a religious commune and spent time working as a nightwatchman, this is the perfect introduction to Sophie. Shy, a fish out of water in the big city, he studies Sophie on screen as she goes about her day, watching the same TV programmes as her and eating his meals at the same time, separated only by the floor between them. It’s an arrangement that suits Sophie too; she’s grieving so hard she fears that she’s becoming invisible to other people. The problem arises when Jonah starts following Sophie outside the flat, and when the couple are finally brought together by a shocking and dramatic incident.
In other hands, this ode to voyeurism could be creepy. But thanks to Porter’s script and the endearing performances of Thomas Pickles and Lizzy Watts, in roles originated by Harry McEntire and Rosie Wyatt, it becomes charming, awkward and ultimately very touching. Initially structured as two monologues performed by the pair alternately, there’s something of the whimsy and poetry of Daniel Kitson to the writing; there’s also a nod to Isy Suttie’s beautifully told Pearl & Dave, another study of loneliness and connection through technology.
For the touring production, Pickles and Watts have stepped into the roles that McEntire and Wyatt have been playing since the play’s premiere in Edinburgh. They both do so with ease; Pickles is adorable, while Watts carries with her a shroud of sadness that seems to imperceptibly lift as she becomes closer to Jonah. They play all the supporting characters as well, and Pickles is particularly good as Sophie’s insensitive HR colleague, while Watts transforms herself into a German performance artist.
Joe Murphy is a capable director of monologues – having directed Wyatt in Jack Thorne’s brilliant Bunny a couple of years ago, also for Nabokov – and he knits the two strands of the story together elegantly. Yet, ultimately, Blink’s strength lies in Porter’s wonderful script, a beautifully drawn piece of writing, with characters who are flawed, sharp-edged, resistant to easy fixes, yet incredibly easy to root for. It’s all too easy to imagine a Hollywood version of Blink, repackaged as a self-consciously hip indie comedy, but Porter steers away from the obvious, from the cliches of the genre, his characters have a wholeness to them and the play as a whole is tender and sad and warm and emotionally messy and all the more memorable for it.