Tabby MacLachlan and Sameera BowersEliza Cane-Honeysett with permission for Varsity

The Pembroke New Cellars are a difficult space to work with. It’s not only the dark, drab interior or the fact it is situated in the basement of student halls, next to the laundry room, but that the college is actively against its success. Or at least it seemed that way when I produced a show there. With the inaccessible rules and practicalities, Pembroke makes it far from easy to run a show smoothly so I share a lot of sympathy with the production team. But, despite the obstacles, Blink not only survived but thrived.

“It felt as if they were waiting for us, rather than us waiting for them”

Walking into Pembroke New Cellars, I was surprised to feel relaxed and at ease. It wasn’t what I was expecting, especially with the cold, sci-fi themes of the publicity material (made by Elizabeth O’Donnell and Eliza Cane-Honeysett). A warm light filled the room as two actors sat on stage, one leafing through a book. It felt as if they were waiting for us, rather than us waiting for them. The moment I stepped into the room, I felt the urge to speak in whispers so as to not break the peace. From this moment on, I was fully engaged in the performance.

Both Tabby MacLachlan (as Sophie) and Sameera Bowers (as Jonah) impressed me with their storytelling. The show consists of two actors monologuing their respective experiences moving away from home, through grief and pain and consequently loneliness before they ‘meet’. MacLachlan and Bowers give outstanding performances as they battled against the echo of doors, people in the building, and in all honesty the remnants of my cold which only seems to reappear in theatres and libraries. I commend them for capturing my attention. With a script which consists of two people speaking at an audience for ninety minutes, it could have been dangerously dull. Yet, I was hanging on to every word. The right balance was struck between the entertainment of slightly heightened characters which Bowers tended to take on and the sensitivity of the naturalism in MacLachlan’s performance.

“I was hanging on to every word”

The interesting thing about Blink is that despite sharing a stage for the whole show, the characters Sophie and Jonah have very few lines actually addressed to each other. Their relationship consists of Jonah watching Sophie and Sophie knowing that Jonah is watching her. It would be easy to make this feel rigid or creepy but directors Frederick Upton and Eliza Cane-Honeysett manage to create something eerily sweet and delicate. It felt like the anxiety and anticipation of a first love faced with the hardships of loneliness, fear and grief. While it never seemed sinister, thanks to Sameera’s amiable portrayal, there were moments in which I suddenly questioned the healthiness and motives of their relationship. I enjoyed how I jumped from supporting them and finding it sweet, to being disturbed by the nature of their interaction as Jonah follows her to a job interview or watches her through a camera in her home.

“Directors Frederick Upton and Eliza Cane-Honeysett manage to create something eerily sweet”

While the lighting and set was basic - no surprise for the New Cellars - it really carried the narrative of the show. The warmth and simplicity of Catherine Coggan’s lighting made the space feel intimate and somewhat romantic. The cardboard boxes in the corner made the space feel domestic and the symmetry cut the stage in half without a physical barrier. I could easily distinguish Sophie’s space compared to Jonah’s and the tension between the two. A stand out moment for me was the image of Jonah digging with a trowel. A warm light radiating from the box in which he is digging contrasts with a cold blue wash for the rest of the stage. The scene felt almost fantastical, echoing the seemingly magical coincidences that led him to meet Sophie.

The dynamic on stage between MacLachlan and Bowers had so much energy, both romantically and in the way they kept the story moving. Despite their characters’ physical separation for the majority of the play, they kept pace with each other and created tension through challenging the boundaries of the space. They maintained a constant tension which is facilitated by the staging choices of the directors and the almost ‘Frantic Assembly’ (a physical theatre based theatre company) styled movement.

I appreciated the creativity in the way the cast and production team told this story. It was obvious every move was well thought out. There were some moments that felt a little stiff and some dialogue that missed the mark in places but I’d put that down to opening night jitters.


Mountain View

The Welkin: What to expect and is she expecting?

While I made my opinions on the New Cellars clear at the start, I think Blink used what it was given to its full capacity. It is never going to have the production value of a show at the ADC but with what it had, it made it work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My only major flaw with the show was the amount of seats left empty - even for opening night it was rather sparse. Whether it was a lack of publicity or a lack of interest, it felt like a disservice to the production. While I enjoyed having at least three rows of chairs to myself, it is a shame such a good show is being missed by Cambridge theatre. It really is a hidden gem. If you get a chance to see it and don’t mind venturing to the Pembroke New Cellars, I highly recommend going.

Blink is showing at Pembroke New Cellars from Tue 24 - Sat 28 October.