by Tanya Batson-Savage
Mr and Mrs Blacke, written by Keiran King and produced by Eight Seven Six, has more to offer in style than in substance. The play is ambitious and strives to be a telling commentary on Jamaica’s upper middle class. Bouyed by King’s wit it is amusing but it fails to deliver lasting emotional impact.
Mr and Mrs Blacke is directed by Paul Issa and features Keisha Patterson and Keiran King as Samantha and Nicholas Blacke. The Blackes are an upper-middle class couple who on the outside appear happy enough, however they are at the point in their marriage where each is involved in his or her own life and disinterest has set in. Samantha has desires of living a more creative life though she doesn’t seem to be doing much about it and instead carries on a vapid existence. Nicholas is arrogant and sarcastic and making money is his major concern.
As with Eight Seven Six’ first production, Last Call, which earned the 2011 Actor Boy Award for Best Production, Mr and Mrs Blacke is visually appealing. The set is almost completely white and is striking in its starkness and adequately reflecting the emotionlessness of the Blacke marriage. The contrasting black accents and costumes complete the impression that theirs is a polarized world. However, Samantha’s red scarf at the end of the play gets a little too heavy-handed with the symbolism.
The play also manages the rare feat of taking place in real time, with no intermission, which is refreshingly different. Lighting, designed by Nadia Roxburgh, looks deceptively simple. It is however quite commendable for keeping the cast from being lost in all the whiteness.
The script largely relies on dry witty humour and is reminiscent of the and quippy dialogue of classic Hollywood with jokes particularly reminiscent of The Court Jester and Gigi, but with a touch of George Bernard Shaw. The result is amusing but it smacks of literary masturbation, being obviously pleased with how witty it is, and how good it is at referencing Shakespeare.
So, although the dialogue is interesting, where Mr and Mrs Blacke starts to lose ground is in the script. Patterson and King both deliver decent performances and while they achieve some emotional depth and nuance neither have the strength to rescue it. Though they are a mildly interesting couple at the end of the play we do not truly care for them. Their passion fails to ignite and so when their disinterest and malaise turns to anger, it is not enough.
Despite the humour, Mr and Mrs Blacke is a dark play. As Samantha and Nick spiral down a dark path on what started out as a very ordinary evening in their very ordinary lives, the play comments on the illusion of normalcy and who two people who seemed to love each other can become twisted by jealousy, mistrust and the constant pursuit of luxury.
Yet, alas, the characters don’t get dark enough to expose the nasty underbelly that King’s script was clearly reaching for. The necessary depth eludes both pen and performance as neither writer, director nor actors are able to reach the story’s potential. It relies too heavily on cliches of drama: a slap here, a broken vase there and, of course, the Hollywood must-have, a shattered picture frame to signal the breaking point in a relationship.
Yet the story of Mr and Mrs Blacke is an improvement over Last Call which was far too bland, with a story as unremarkably beige as its beautiful set and costumes. Mr and Mrs Blacke is commendable in its ambitions, but as yet they remain only ambitions.
Mr and Mrs Blacke is currently playing at the Phillip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies, Mona.