A rehearsed reading of Matthew Todd’s previously acclaimed Blowing Whistles was presented at The Turbine Theatre this week, as part of their week-long celebration of queer work: Rally Fest. The piece follows Nigel and Jamie, a couple celebrating their 24th anniversary by hooking up with 21-year-old Mark. It quickly becomes evident that this is not a rare occurrence in their relationship, nor is it equally desired by each of the men, with Nigel ‘managing’ the Grindr account whilst Jamie goes along with his partner’s impulses.
Blowing Whistles takes a somewhat overdone concept, that of an open relationship inevitably putting strain on a couple, and delivers it in a really refreshing way. The dialogue feels consistently truthful, with nothing particularly ‘played up’ for drama; the audience can believe that Nigel and Jamie are a genuine couple who are unfortunately reaching the end of their tether.
Rather than focusing on Nigel’s wandering interests to generate a dramatic betrayal narrative, the play instead spotlights Jamie’s longing for connection with his partner, allowing for a deeper emotional investment in the piece. As Mark unexpectedly also opens up to Jamie, in Nigel’s absence, we are then posed with a love triangle fuelled not by sex drive but a longing for connection. It is this heart which sets Blowing Whistles apart from other similar pieces.
The performances are great all around, particularly considering the limited preparation time and ‘rehearsed reading’ format. Charlie Condou and Toby Sawyer, as Nigel and Jamie respectively, open the first act with very entertaining back and forth which brilliantly establishes their long-term companionship, whilst showing off the natural comedic strengths of the pair. Sawyer’s heartful vulnerability is first to break the light-hearted bickering, though Condou’s passionate frustration is not far behind as the pair do a fantastic job of building tension as they clash throughout the piece.
Elander Moore, as Mark, is mesmerizing to watch and not because of his regularly addressed good looks. There isn’t a moment that Moore feels disconnected from the story he is telling, a difficult feat when regularly referring back to a script, and he brings real depth to what could be presented as a shallow, immature character. Mark could so easily be viewed as a tool to come between the couple, and an unlikeable one at that, as he constantly decries ‘camp’ queer culture. However, Moore speaks volumes with his eyes, which betray his shallow words to reveal an earnest longing for acceptance and community.
The reading was naturally staged minimally, so it is a testament to the strength of the script that it was so easy to lose yourself in the piece. Even with just three chairs for a set design the performers kept the piece fairly active though, so when Mark ended up sitting between the couple, it read as a clear visual cue for the rift in their relationship. Combining these choices with simple but effective sound cues, the entire team did a great job of putting on a fulfilling production.
Blowing Whistles was a very engaging, entertaining and unexpectedly moving piece, and if it was this good at half-steam then audiences can only hope to see another, fully realised, production in the near future.
Blowing Whistles played Turbine Theatre on 8 June 2021. For more information, see the Turbine Theatre online.