The premiere of Dave Simpson's Blind Date must serve as an inspiration for aspiring local playwrights. Its development is the sort of situation you always hope will happen but that in reality rarely occurs.
The play originated as a 15 minute ‘JB Short' that later generated a sequel. Now Simpson has expanded both parts into a full-length play – and a very good one at that.
Andrew (Will Travis) and Angela (Susan Mcardle) arrange a blind date based on their highly misleading self-descriptions on a dating website. The couple find they have a lot in common sharing a sense of humour, supporting the same football team and each owning a cat. However, neither finds the other to be physically attractive. Although the couple decide not to pursue a relationship fate has other ideas.
The expansion of the short plays allows Simpson the opportunity to deepen and enrich the material from straightforward comedy to comedy / drama. Not that anyone will complain about the comedy aspects, which brim with hilarious situations, excellent physical humour and great lines.
The ending of Act One suggests that the second half will be darker perhaps even tragic. Director Alice Bartlett takes a more subtle approach so that the more serious situations in Act Two always have a comic or absurd undertone. The effect is like watching the relationship between Andrew and Alice mature as they learn to cope with adversity and their mutual attraction deepens. Just like life really.
The first Act does have elements of trying too hard. The use of musical cues to set the mood (‘All By Myself' has been overused) becomes tiresome. Bartlett does, however, use music to great effect as a background to some excellent physical comedy with the couple preparing for their first date by enhancing their physical attributes as "The Great Pretender" plays in the background.
Although the actors take very different approaches to their characters they share the same basic idea that they should be likeable however flawed. The running joke throughout is that neither character is confident about their looks, which Mcardle takes to an extreme adopting a diffident, bird-like stance constantly hunched over defensively.
It is only when she lets rip a full-throated laugh that rocks her entire body that you can see the attractive personality concealed behind the massive glasses. Travis exploits his character's job a barman to indulge in telling some horrible puns but also digs under Andrew's apparent social confidence to reveal the surprising insecurity that inhibits him from forming relationships.
The opening night of Blind Date saw a very enthusiastic packed house and The Octagon has already extended the run. The success is very well deserved.
Blind Date is at the Octagon, Bolton until 29 November.