Blackout is the unflinching account of five lives blighted by alcoholism. Pulling no punches, this verbatim piece by playwright/performer and recovering alcoholic Mark Jeary, gives insight into the battle with the bottle. Shocking, heart-breaking, yet brutally funny and entertaining, the play’s staging is simple. It is set within a white square flooring with a lit perimeter, as though it is shining a spotlight on each of the individual’s angst.
Blackout draws on interviews with fellow recovering alcoholics, and at times this is juxtaposed with audio clips where we hear from the individuals as they move around the small space. Jeary takes us beyond the first convivial drinks, beyond the happy partying to the hedonistic, out of control behaviour and then onwards to the helpless blackouts where drinking continues, but everything is forgotten. This ultimately leads to the journey of sobriety and being part of the fellowship of alcoholics who are together looking for whoever or whatever the ‘Higher Being’ is.
The tales are unbelievable, yet each of the performers has an amazing ability to draw you into the experiences of the characters they are playing. There are good use of accents and you half believe that you are witnessing are their own stories. In some cases, it may be true, but in others they are merely recounting the verbatim text of others. What makes these stories so shocking are that they are everyday people with jobs and families.
What links all of these five characters is drink and we hear shameful accounts from each of the characters at different stages of recovery, reliving their own battles with drink. This includes the newcomer (Cameron Fulton) – the young gay man who set fire to a brief encounter’s flat by trying to dry his clothing in the oven because he’d urinated on his jeans whilst passed out. To the one year alcoholic (Miriam Sarah Doren) – a mother who beat up her son who ends up in prison. To the six year drinker (Camille Marmie) – and her unsuccessful suicide attempt with 100 herbal sleeping tablets and a bottle of vodka. To the ten year alcoholic (Houda Echouafni) – the Palestine Woman who found whisky and coke changed her life; and then finally to Mark Jeary (old timer).
Whilst all this sounds doom and gloom, this piece is anything but and there’s much humour to Leary’s writing and some wonderful one liners. On alcoholism showing as false evidence appearing real, his one liner, ‘if your head is up your own arse, you only see the darkness in yourself‘ gets a big laugh.
Congratulations to all the cast for keeping it together and the flow going when latecomers entered five minutes into the start of the show and when twice, people’s mobile phones went off with Echouafni proclaiming ‘shameful’, the audience is left wondering whether it was to do with the phone going off or the shameful act of recounting the story of the time she had sex with a stranger when her 16 year old was in the house. Blackout will leave you punch-drunk, defying the myths about what you thought you knew about alcoholism and presenting the facts. It makes for a sobering afternoon of viewing.