Reviews Manchester Published 31 January 2014

Blindsided

Royal Exchange ⋄ 23rd January - 15th February 2014

Cold dark matter.

John Murphy

Blindsided marks the third time – following Punk Rock and On The Shore Of The Wide World – that Simon Stephens has collaborated with the Royal Exchange’s joint Artistic Director Sarah Frankcom, and it demonstrates the  strength of their creative relationship.

Like Punk Rock, the play is set in Stephens’ native Stockport, and charts the explosive relationship between Cathy Meyer, a troubled, unstable teenage mother, and cocky, ne’er do well John Connolly, paying particular attention to the impact their entanglement has on Cathy’s family, on both her mother, Susan, and her baby daughter, Ruthie. Cathy’s passion is full of teenage heat, but John’s eye is a roving one and when she discovers that he’s cheated on her,  her response and revenge is pretty horrific.

Frankcom is an excellent director of actors, particularly of young performers and here she draws an absolutely electrifying turn from Katie West as Cathy, who accentuates her character’s naivety, while also exploring her darker side, digging deep. Her initial meeting with John – played with a swagger by Andrew Sheridan – is utterly compelling; they prowl round each other, sizing each other up, and there’s stiff, uneasy, almost Pintery quality to the way the couple  deliver their lines, a weirdness, an artifice,  an aura of menace and foreboding.

West and Sheridan have real chemistry, and Julie Hesmondhalgh – in her first theatrical role since her moving departure from Coronation Street – is superb as Cathy’s mother, her character a world away from that of the mousy Hayley Cropper, steely and determined, a woman capable of moments of quite devastating cruelty, yet beneath this veneer, there’s some genuine maternal affection at play; at heart she’s a mother trying to the best by her daughter and grandchild.

The play rather neatly spans 18 years of Conservative government, from Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979 to New Labour’s election victory in 1997, although the political aspect remains in the background. There are a few obvious laughs – “Tony Blair – he could be alright”, a character comments at one point – and there are definite parallels to be drawn between the couple’s first heady flush of love and the way their initial feelings of optimism are replaced with a sense of betrayal.

After an engaging build-up, the play falters in its final scenes, shifting forwards in time to the late-nineties. Cathy has moved to the Isle of Man and is rebuilding her life, with Hesmondhalgh taking on the role of her daughter’s older self, It just about works, as she’s a very fine actress, but it’s also jarring as West has so completely inhabited the character of Cathy up until this point.

Affecting, if bleak, Blindsided is a tricky thing – it’s very difficult to like any of the characters, not that this is an issue, per se, but it does colour your response to the play. It’s an intense, at times brilliant, piece of work, but it’s Katie West’s astonishing performance that’s likely to leave the deepest impression.

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John Murphy

John is the former editor of, and current contributor to, musicOMH. He lives in Sheffield, in the shadow of the famous Crucible and Lyceum theatres, and also reviews in nearby Leeds and Manchester. John is also a huge fan of stand-up comedy, and can be often be found in one of Sheffield's comedy clubs, laughing like a madman.

Blindsided Show Info


Directed by Sarah Frankcom

Written by Simon Stephans

Cast includes Katie West, Andrew Sheridan, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Rebecca Callard,

Link http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/page.aspx

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