If you read this blog, chances are you already had strong recommendations about Blurred Lines, a play “created by Nick Payne and Carrie Cracknell, devised by the Company with poetry by Michaela Coel”. (This is a direct quote from the National Theatre website, I didn’t want to get it wrong). “Recommendations” puts it somewhat mildly. Among the “feminist” plays currently performing in London, Blurred Lines (taking its title from the Robin Thicke song, yes THAT Robin Thicke song) is the rock n’ roll concert. People love it, scream for it (as the girls next to me did at the curtain call), adore it. And with very good reason.
On a visceral level, Blurred Lines made me think of hailstorms: it starts peddling first, and you can only tell it’s coming by the sound. And then it’s furious, sweeping, earth-shattering. And in the end it starts to slow down and you feel sweeter rhythms. It’s funny – with the kind of self-referential jokes that are trojan horses, you smile and chuckle and then feel blinding fury. It’s also poetic, like a penguin drawn with a single line.
On a cerebral level, you can start unpicking many strands and different people will focus on different things. What struck me the most was the way sexism thrives the more people are stretched and scared in their working lives. We turn on each other eating our own flesh.
I am reluctant to talk about individual performances. In this production, it doesn’t work. The whole company, eight luminous women (Marion Bailey, Lorna Brown, Michaela Coel, Bryony Hannah, Sinéad Matthews, Ruth Sheen, Claire Skinner, Susannah Wise) come together for every single moment. It’s the whole point. It’s the only way for the play to exist. But I will say this: women playing men isn’t just a theatrical device, it illuminates something vital in moments and situations.
Visually, I can only describe the set as the white flight of stairs in A Matter of Life and Death. Maybe that’s where these stories take place: between here and somewhere else.
Carrie Cracknell is directing Simon Stephens’ Birdland next, a play about a rock star at the end of a massive international tour. If that production is half as punk as this one, it will make its rock heart justice.