[Swipe Right and Swipe Right Again]
Improvisational theatre, ephemeral at best, becomes completely sui generis when you have a new guest performer each night; add in a hearty amount of alcohol, constant cellphone use, and some karaoke and you have The Blind Date Project, a wildly unique hour of entertainment.
Natalie Medlock returns as Anna after a previous sell out season with Silo in 2014 and conducts a series of ‘blind dates’, a different guest star joining her each night. It is clearly a winning formula, held together by Medlock’s masterful improvisational capabilities and director Sophie Roberts’ careful manipulations.
Q Theatre’s Loft has become the ‘Locket Karaoke Bar’. Considerable effort has gone into the design and this pays off as enjoyable and immersive world building (credit to Micheal McCabe, Rachel Marlow, Kristin Seth
and Selina Ershadi). The bar is well stocked and before the show the audience can order cheap drinks ($6 Gin and Tonics!) off the ‘Sad Hour’ specials board and chat to bar staff. There is a mini stage for karaoke complete with duel television screens, velvet drapery, and a Grecian statue wearing a studded harness. Half the audience is seated cabaret style with a couple of bleacher rows at the back. Yvette Parsons as the ‘Karaoke Queen’ gruffly delivers hits including ‘Bettie Davis Eyes’ and ‘I Touch Myself’ to applause while garbed in full black leather and fishnets, a huge studded belt pulling the outfit together. The bar staff evaporate as the theatre doors close, Medlock is now seated at the bar, and Parsons eventually takes up a position behind the taps.
Anna locks in the karaoke song choices pretty early into the date; ‘Eternal Flame’ for herself, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ for her date Carol (a terribly funny Hayley Sproull), and ‘You Are the One That I Want’ as a duet. The songs cropped up suspiciously neatly to reflect the arc of the date and it was a touch underwhelming to have the events of the evening so clearly signposted so early on.
The team behind The Blind Date Project make no bones over how structured the show actually is despite the fact that it is unscripted. A quick flick through the programme and you learn that characters are constructed ahead of the performances and the performers are guided through text messages and phone calls from the director during the performance, allowing for a completely flexible but ‘totally ordered’ show. Logically this is a brilliant device, playing into our dependence upon our phones and masking the direction.
After a while however, I grew frustrated with the cell-phones which seemed to beep every four minutes and always forced the performers to turn away from their audience. If my date had to read 30 texts over the course of an hour I would simply up and leave. I can’t decide which edge of the mobile sword is sharper – the function or the dire image of contemporary dating, individuals unable to be completely present for more than a couple of minutes.
A lot of the ‘comedy’ arose from the characters’ messy lives (drug dependency, dead end jobs, work place affairs, shitty boyfriends, good old emotional nihilism) with the date devolving into what, prior to the hookup generation, would be considered a failure – Carol stating she wasn’t going to fall in love and Anna crying out of hopeless loneliness.
It wasn’t all this depressing though. Some great one liners happened, the best being Carol’s ‘I have to move my car every 90 minutes’ (Carol was a pharmacist at the Greenlane Countdown without the privilege of a carpark) and Parsons’ Karaoke Queen was perfectly pitched with a tantalising backstory.
All the promotion for this show banks on a high level of hilarity so I was surprised to hear fewer and fewer laughs over the course of this date – perhaps it was a little too familiar to the audience? It is not often you can accuse a show of being too relevant. Date number one (opening night) was the blighted reflection of modern Tinder romance, strangers trying to negotiate a range of emotional needs and insecurities through a hookup.
I am inclined to think that the full effect of The Blind Date Project would come from attending more than one performance. I left feeling I needed to see what happens tomorrow night, if only in the hope that Anna’s next date would turn out differently.
The Blind Date Project plays Q Loft until 21 September.