Five years later and serial-dater Anna is back in the game. App dating hasn’t really changed since then, nor since its boom in 2012, but that doesn’t mean there are any fewer suitors or potential theatrics since Silo Theatre first presented the show. Created by AFI award-winner Bojana Novakovic, who has played the role in Sydney, New York, and Los Angeles, the gimmick of The Blind Date Project, in that neither the actress nor the audience have any idea who the former’s co-star will be for the evening, is one that not only encourages multiple viewings, but also brings with it high risk. Anticipation. Failure. Success. Fear. But that’s what dating’s all about, right?
Perched on a stool in yet another karaoke dive bar, actress Natalie Medlock awaits her guest for the night. Inspired by the neon chic of the heyday of queer nightclubs, Michael McCabe’s “Locket” is an authentic and fully functioning bar operating in the Q Theatre Loft. As patrons purchase last-minute drinks before taking their seats at cabaret-style tables or the rear seating block, Rachel Marlowe’s lighting draws us in, while maintaining a theatrical objectivity. We’re voyeurs as much as spectators. People watchers and participants.
Entering with skateboard, helmet, and hi-vis, Anna’s date on opening night is Carol, played by actress, comedian, and television host, Hayley Sproull. Carol is a pharmacist from Glenn Innes, who’s been demoted to the Greenlane Countdown due to a penchant for “all of the pams”. It turns out she also has a boyfriend of 14 years back at home. It’s a backstory with plenty to play, but the drugs never take hold and the double-seven-year-itch doesn’t give Sproull a strong enough objective to play.
Both Medlock and her respective date receive direction via texts and phone calls, and while the Auckland premiere in 2014 was directed by Novakovic herself, this year, Artistic Director Sophie Roberts is at the other end of the line. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, co-creator and director Mark Winter says that he watches what emerges organically, and then tries to heighten it. “I try to give them obstacles to overcome so there is that tension between them. That is when they start to test each other’s personalities.”
This test, this tension, never really arises on opening night. There is plenty of play between Carol and Anna as they discuss sex and drugs, and sing rock ‘n’ roll and pop songs, and while it all reads truthfully, with laugh-a-minute hilarity thanks to both Medlock and Sproull’s comedic wit and timing, both the internal and external obstacles make no influence on either character until the very end, especially Anna’s more-often-than-not ill-fitting secret, which feels forced both narratively and emotionally. It’s also difficult to hear at times, specifically Yvette Parson’s bartender, Lucy.
While Auckland audiences may not be graced with the presence of Margot Robbie or David Harbour as other productions have, there are plenty of guests for whom I would return to see. There are even different versions of Anna which Medlock can play on any given night. As with any blind date, this show takes guts. You can be as prepared as you want to be, but you’ll never know what to expect. It requires a huge amount of courage, but also malleability. It is a show that is absolutely worth seeing in terms of the potential game that can be played. Whether the guest steps, however, is another question. Besides that, when was the last time you took a risk?