Pros: Tells the bare and ugly truth of alcoholism with honesty.
Cons: A little self-indulgent and self-referential at the expense of character development.
The overriding quality that runs through every minute of this show is its honesty. Written by a former alcoholic, Mark Jeary also stars in Blackout – a play based on his own experiences and those of others in recovery. The show runs through each of their journeys to recovery, focusing not just on their lows and how they came back from them but also the giddy highs of addiction – when drinking was just really fun. This cheeky edge is the only real indicator – along with a moment in the second half where we realise that one of our addicts doesn’t make it to sobriety – that this show isn’t solely made for recovering alcoholics.
There are a lot of bits and pieces in this production that I could connect with and dramatically appreciate. The horror stories of what the characters both did and had done to them whilst under the influence offer some harrowing moments. Let’s not forget that these are true – these dark vignettes are past recollections of real addicts – however edited; Jeary has enough personal experience of alcoholism and recovery to convey the heavy truth of it to audiences.
The problem lies not within the individual parts (these anecdotes are both well formed and effective) but they never amount to a fully functioning whole. The narratives clearly emphasise the episodic – building up an arc of addiction/rock bottom/recovery – over creating a complete character. The superficial journey from alcoholism to sobriety substitutes any real character development.
This is true at least from an outsider’s perspective; as someone who has never had any personal experience with addiction I did not identify with it but didn’t feel any great insight was offered either. As my friend who saw it with me pointed out, it could’ve been more interesting if they focused on what an alcoholic feels like when they are sober – as this is the thing that they really struggle with. Everyone in the audience has been sober, not everyone will have the experience of drinking until they blackout. Perhaps more meat could have been found on this particular bone – how does an addict experience sobriety in a way that is completely different from you or I?
The show was followed by a frank and open discussion with the cast about the genesis and creative process of the project. Rather than questions about the particulars of the play, the talk was dominated by former alcoholics in the audience offering up their experiences and commending the show on how accurately it had portrayed them. This is obviously a positive thing, but it does confirm my belief that the show had more to offer to people who have lived through addiction – either directly or through a loved one.
Along with the post-show discussion, the play felt a little like a lengthy AA session, and you can see it working really well in this setting. It could be championed as a positive message for those just entering recovery by giving a voice to people that have gone through what they have (and worse) and made it out the other side. Although if the setting were changed, we would then have to miss out on the especially poignant moment of returning to the pub downstairs to see a solitary drunk being told off by bar staff. In its current form as a play for the public all the foundations are there but it’s just not quite all it could be.
Writer: Mark Jeary
Director: Gavin Curtis
Producer: New Room Theatre
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/event/69195
Booking Until: 6 December 2014