The goal of many alcoholics is the blackout – the point at which drinking leads to memory loss. But what leads someone to that state? Why would they choose to self-harm?
This piece of verbatim theatre follows the same structure as the recovery process, beginning with frenzied chaos. The five performers dizzyingly cross the stage speaking their fractured lines over one another. It’s confusing, but it reflects the giddy rush of excitement of getting drunk, of not knowing where you’ll wake up after the blackout. It’s also very amusing – listening to the various anecdotes, it makes you wonder what’s so bad about alcohol after all?
That soon comes. The next act brings a change of character: violence, abuse, rape. Here we witness five people struggling to take control, wrestling with denial and deluding themselves until the point of rock-bottom. Recovery does come, but it doesn’t come easily. When reality hits, it’s all too easy to switch to another vice. Sobriety is tough when dealing with life’s tragedies leading to a lack of self-confidence. Recovery is ultimately positioned as a spiritual awakening: whether having faith in God, some other higher power, or simply finding positivity in humanity.
In fact, positivity is the overall message of Blackout. This is a play fuelled by hope, presenting an honest, powerful and truthful vision of life as an alcoholic.
However, what it gains in verisimilitude, it lacks in drama. With the piece scripted entirely from interviews with recovering alcoholics (including lead writer Mark Jeary himself, who also performs), it sometimes feels more like watching an AA meeting than an actual play. Lighting and choreographed movement do add a sense of theatricality, but mostly dramatic issues lie in the presentation of character, despite some excellent physical and emotional performances. With overlaying stories, individual characters become difficult to discern and are underveloped – some are far stronger than others. More so, the characters may touch on tragedy in their speeches, but the overall positive message gives them an air of invincibility. One character doesn't survive, but he’s quickly forgotten. Ironically enough for a verbatim piece, the characters feel more like a collection of quotes than human.
On an educational level, though, Blackout certainly works as a thought-provoking piece. It may be performed in a pub, but I steered well clear of any alcoholic drinks.