Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Review: Blurred Lines, National Theatre

“I’d be surprised if part of the audience didn’t feel alienated”

A dissection of “what it means to be a woman today”, Blurred Lines is a devised piece currently occupying the Shed, created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell and the result of improvisation and experimentation with the cast of eight women. The show utilises text (effectively), poetry (interestingly) and songs (less than successfully) woven together into a patchwork piece of theatre. Naturally, the end result is somewhat uneven and it was hard not to feel that the almost scattershot approach mutes the overall impact of the work as the attention flashes from moment to moment. 

For me, the strongest sequences were the ones bookending the show, which comes in at a snappy 70 minutes straight through. A roll call of the stereotypical depictions of women in the cultural sphere speaks with the unassailable truth that has undoubtedly dogged the careers of everyone here, reinforcing the narrative about the paucity of decent roles for women. And a blistering final segment challenges a patriarchal actor/director relationship, asking searing questions about what we all may have been conditioned to find acceptable. 

Elsewhere, representations of women across a number of media flicker into brief life – the all-pervasive misogyny, the sexualisation of the standard portrayal of women (especially when playing ‘victims’), the compromises necessary just to get a job. And on Bunny Christie’s striking set of stairs, it certainly has a visual impact to accompany its thought-provoking story-telling. Marion Bailey as the theatre director is excellent at showing his appallingness, Sinéad Matthews is as punishingly effective as always at breaking one’s heart and I admired Michaela Coel’s spoken word work too. 

So why didn’t I love it? I’m not entirely sure, to be honest. Men come in for a rough time (how could they not…) but it is hard to know exactly what to do with that, the team here aren’t concerned with offering answers or ways forward, leaving a slight sense of frustration (especially given how something like this Now magazine cover got away scot-free, and I’m talking more generally than just this play here, I was surprised at how small the twitter-storm was for this compared to say, dodgy slogans on t-shirts). It’s a Pandora’s Box to be sure but a bold and important move from all concerned.

Running time: 70 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 22nd February

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