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Saturday 25 January 2014

The Blackest Black, Play by Jeremy Brock, Hampstead Theatre, London, 7* out of 10

Abi (Charity Wakefield), an aspiring English artist has succeeded in obtaining a short residency in an Arizona astronomical observatory. There she meets Martin (John Light), an ambitious American scientist who wants nothing more than a tenure-position as a professor of Astronomy. Martin has a limited number of nights to make actual observations of the portion of the universe he specialises in. Chuck (Ian Bonar), part Native American, is the engineer whose job it is to set up the telescope in accordance with the wishes of his scientist clients. 

For all but the last night reserved for Martin’s observations the weather has been bad. Though married with one child, this has led to the very high-strung, scientific and logical Martin to spend the night with the very chaotic English resident artist, for whom human connections, sexual and otherwise are what life is all about. It seems that hormones generally flow more freely in the cleansing Arizona sunshine. But when passionate Abi draws country-boy and engineer Chuck into her schemes, far-reaching consequences ensue.

The Blackest Black is a play about the clash between two professional worlds across two continents - that of the English artist, who finds the scientific look at the world incredibly limited and pedantic and that of the American scientist, who has no feel for the emotionality and the sweeping metaphors of modern art and feels overwhelmed by it. Sexual attraction between the two lights a dangerous fuse for Chuck who is both practical and a bit of a dreamer but not as ruthless in pursuing his professional goals and carnal inclinations as either of the other two.

BAFTA and Oscar nominated screenwriter Jeremy Brock (Mrs Brown, The Last King of Scotland) has written an interesting play; for me he has left some doubts about the plausibility of the relationship between his two protagonists developing such passion in a relatively short time. Director Michael Longhurst, Charity Wakefield and John Light do their best to make the strength of that relationship believable - and their best is very good. Ian Bonar shines in the role of Chuck, a character strongly written and strongly played.

All in all, The Blackest Back is a very worthwhile and enjoyable new play. The Hampstead Theatre, both upstairs and downstairs has become an ever more interesting venue for quality theatre and great value for money. I’ll be back.

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