Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics


Phil Porter
Wonderhouse Theatre
The Salford Arts Theatre , Salford
22 October 2015 to 24 October 2015

Wonderhouse Theatre is a new company seeking to promote local theatre in the Manchester area and to attract audiences who do not normally go to plays. Blink, their first production, shows that they have an eye for quality.

Most modern day love stories concentrate on the difficulties involved in trying to form a relationship in an age of alienation when people can invent artificial personalities online. Author Phil Porter on the other hand develops characters who are all too real and struggle to overcome not just their inhibitions but also personality defects.

Jonah (David Gregan-Jones) flees from a repressive religious cult to a new life in London where he develops a voyeuristic interest in his landlady Sophie (Charlotte Tyree). Sophie is unable to acknowledge that grief over the death of her father has left her traumatised and reclusive and, in an unusual and anonymous manner, encourages Jonah’s interest moving the odd couple towards a possible love affair albeit one that has ridiculous undertones.

The Salford Arts Theatre is relatively large and well equipped for a fringe venue and director Mark Croasdale exploits the facilities to maximum effect to ensure a lively and charming production. He does not limit the action to the stage - Jonah’s pursuit of Sophie takes the cast scurrying through the audience.

The characters provide their own narration direct to the audience, which could result in the play feeling artificial were it not for the cast being so engaging. The actors do not attempt to make the characters lovable by disguising the extent to which they are damaged. Tyree shows that Sophie, dismissed from her job for lacking visibility, is clearly struggling to establish an identity that does not derive from her late father. There is desperation behind Sophie’s too bright and over-positive personality. Gregan-Jones does not suggest that Jonah’s voyeurism is anything but creepy. There is a restrained but manic edge to the interpretation making Jonah like an over-enthusiastic children’s entertainer. Even so the vulnerability that underlies Gregan-Jones’s performance makes Jonah appealing.

The main success of the production is, however, the convincing chemistry between the actors. They have the quality, not always apparent in the theatre, of seeming to listen to each other. Gregan-Jones’s eyes widen in dismay as Tyree narrates that Sophie passes her time playing gruesome computer games. Sophie’s gentle explanation to Jonah that she facilitated his stalking (and his discomforted reaction) is charming. 

This production of Blink is a small but polished gem that makes Wonderhouse a very welcome addition to the local theatre scene.

Reviewer: David Cunningham