Review: Red Velvet at the Tricycle Theatre
Review: Abi Morgan's Mistress Contract, Royal Court Theatre

Review: Simon Stephen's Blindsided, Manchester Royal Exchange

Katie West and Andrew Sheridan in Blindsided. Photo by Kevin Cummins

Simon Stephen's writes specifically for the space at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, something I missed in seeing Port at the Lyttleton theatre just over a year ago.

The Royal Exchange, if you haven't been, is theatre in the round - a type of space most directors seem to shy away from Stephens commented on in a Q&A. It makes for an intimate and exciting performance space the actors appearing from different places and as an audience member you feel like you are leaning in to see something secret that is hidden from the outside world.

Like Port, Stephens has a young female protagonist, in this case 17-year old Cathy (Katie West) who has a young baby. She is studying one A-level in history, has a part time job and her mum Susan (Julie Hesmondhalgh) helps her out with 'little Ruthie'.

Then she meets John (Andrew Sheridan) a trainee accountant with a sideline in burglary. He charms and is charmed by Cathy and their relationship moves fast. Susan doesn't trust John and his flattery, call it gut instinct or experience but she sees through him.

But while John's faults and misdemeanors might make suitable fodder for a play itself it is the effect he has on Cathy and that is the surprise, particularly as it isn't what you'd think.

While Stephens makes his characters startlingly human there is an almost inhuman darkness just out of view. You feel like you are being toyed with, the title of the play is a clue but what are you missing? What do you not see coming? Are we blindsided by the characters' goodness or flaws?

Stephens said plays shouldn't be didactic, it is not a case of saying 'this is wrong' but 'is this wrong?'. One of the characters asks a total of 254 questions.

There was something a little distancing about Blindsided. My friend @mereplebeian described it as almost Brechtian, just as you are starting to empathise a character will do something that turns that on its head. For me what draws you in is the undercurrent of something unpleasant, nasty or ugly just being around the corner but when it comes it doesn't seem quite so shocking some how.

That isn't to say there are moments of connectedness and raw emotion because there is. West particularly puts in a stunning performance as the misguided Cathy. This is certainly a play to ponder on and that, is probably what Stephens wants.