Zoo Southside, Edinburgh
The Blind Date Project is a delicious slice of improv theatre, with a mischievous wit that makes it a delight. Staged in the cabaret bar at Zoo Southside, the realism here is so heightened that you can almost believe you’re actually witnessing a moment in someone’s life.
As we enter the bar, there’s a relaxed atmosphere. A woman (Margaux Susi) is singing karaoke; we buy drinks, sit ourselves down at little tables, look at the ‘karaoke cards’ laid out before us. If we want, we can request a song to perform. We chat, check our phones, moan about how uncomfortable the seats are, check our phones again, sing along to familiar lines. There are two stools by the bar, elevated on a tiny platform. A woman comes in and sits on one of these. We register her presence, but otherwise just carry on.
It’s all so beautifully done. There’s a subtle lighting change; the Karaoke Queen leaves the stage and goes to tend the bar. A man runs in and sits down beside the woman. They introduce themselves to one another. And the show’s begun.
The woman is Bojana Novakovic, the creator of this piece. She’s playing Anna; she plays Anna every night. The man is Max, played by JJ Whitehead. And this is his first (and only) performance; Anna’s date is different every time. There is no script. The actors are sent directions via texts and phone calls, and have to respond in the moment to everything that is thrown at them. And, my word, it works.
I have rarely been so utterly absorbed in a play. JJ Whitehead is just lovely, gamely dealing with Anna’s neuroses in a kind, accepting, non-judgemental way. He’s confident and funny and, if he’s nervous, it’s okay, because they look like first-date nerves. His performance makes us warm to him, and we resolve to try to catch his own fringe show, if we can fit it in (Fool Disclosure, Liquid Room Annexe, 20:45).
Novakovic is enchanting. Her Anna is drunk and needy, serious and sweet. She seems like a real, complex person, one you’d admire as well as want to protect. Susi, behind the bar, brings a welcome cynicism to the date; her deadpan, sardonic responses are very funny indeed.
I loved this piece. I want to see it again, to see how the dynamic changes when there’s someone else in the other seat. Don’t miss this one; it’s a real treat.