By Rebecca Northan
A Spontaneous Theatre Production
Starring Rebecca Northan, Kristian Reimer, and David Benjamin Tomlinson, and a new “co-star” each show
Spriet Stage, The Grand Theatre
February 13–March 3, 2018
Spontaneous Theatre that is Structured to Allow Magic to Happen
I’ll admit it. My experience with improvisational theatre and comedy has not been a good one over the years. Companies doing short scenes that may elicit a chuckle, at best, or seem forced, at worst—that has been my frame of reference. But to watch Rebecca Northan on stage in the Grand Theatre’s current production of Blind Date is to watch a master of the craft who shows you that while improv can be bad, when it’s good—and performed by supremely talented artists—it can be magical.
The overall concept of Blind Date is Northan as Mimi, a French woman from Avignon who has come to London to visit her uncle, and she’s been stood up on a blind date. Mimi, addressing the audience, establishes the story then chooses a participant from the crowd to go on a 90-minute date—and we, as the audience, get to act as voyeurs into their budding romance.
Theoretically, this could go spectacularly wrong. But the magic of the show is that, despite the fact that we’re led to believe that this is tightrope theatre without a net, Northan’s incredible skill as a performer and deft hand guiding the production ensures that success is all but assured.
I can’t say enough about Northan’s talent and appeal in this production. She may be on a “blind date” with one audience member, but her intelligence, charm, and razor-sharp wit results in the creation of a theatre-full of willing suitors.
On the preview night performance that we attended, the production benefited from an incredibly charming and endearing male participant, Jordan, who more than held his own as the co-star. You could say this was a matter of luck, but that’s discounting the skill of this incredible crew. The team interacts with audience members before the show as a bit of a feeling-out process. So, while success isn’t guaranteed, their ability to ensure the “blind date” doesn’t have all the personality of a piece of plywood certainly increases the odds for success.
Speaking of plywood, this is the first time this show has undertaken such an ambitious performance. The production is intimate, focusing on conversation, and would be well served by a small stage set-up. However, that’s not a luxury afforded by the expansiveness of the Spriet Stage. Set Designer Ken MacDonald fills the stage with an incredible city-scape which transitions both to a park scene and a bedroom environment. It wonderfully complements the production without overwhelming it.
And, most importantly, the production loses none of its intimacy, which is truly the heart of the show. I would be remiss to not mention the sound improviser and lighting designer, Jesse Lynn Northan and Jason Hand, respectively. It is not easy to sync sound and lighting up with a performance that can literally go in any direction, but they deftly handled the challenge. The greatest compliment you can give is that the sound and lighting never—not once—seemed out of place. That’s a testament to their effort and talent.
As the premise of the production is that it’s one that will change every night, it’s very hard to point out highlights or talk about key moments. During our show, there were wonderful discussions about everything ranging from toxic masculinity to grandmotherly sex tips. Clever physical gags included unique ways to hide (and transport) wine glasses. One would expect certain key touchpoints to be repeated over the run, but that can’t be guaranteed.
As a spontaneous theatre performance, there is enough of a structure in place that ensures that the narrative will be driven to one of a couple of endings. There are moments that are clearly pre-planned, but never does it feel like the audience participant is being forced down a path—the moments happen organically and as part of a natural progression. The conversation is engaging and while we, as the audience, are clearly voyeurs, we’re never made to feel lascivious—if anything, we’re made to feel like fans with a rooting interest in the success of the couple.
And the bulk of that success is attributable to Northan as a performer. Improv only succeeds when the performers not only have charisma and talent, but also intelligence and a quick mind. Northan’s ability to roll with any verbal punches, naturally interact with her co-star, and inject true humour into her performance is truly a wonder to behold. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard—and participated in—such frequent and sustained laughter in a production.
Blind Date is a production that invites you to come for multiple viewings, as it promises to change each night. Most excitingly, Blind Date is a production that’s worthy of returning again because that fusion of improvisation, structured elements, and a world-class lead performer is absolute magic.