The line between theatre and real life blurs the moment you walk into the slightly seedy Karaoke Klub – aka the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Artspace – its walls papered with fly posters and Rolling Stone magazine covers.
Tables are intimately arranged around a few rows of seats in the middle, and audience members are already lining up to buy drinks from the fully-stocked bar that’s set centre stage as “Karaoke Queen” Lucy Moir croons into a mic in one corner. Between songs, she encourages audience members to select a song for themselves from the karaoke menu provided on our seats, and a couple of audience members bravely step up and perform to great applause. It builds an authentic Friday night mood.
There’s still a bit of a queue at the bar when Anna, played by AFI award-winner Bojana Novakovic (Rake, Shameless) joins it. The karaoke in the corner rolls on as audience members/bar customers chat among themselves, and Anna waits her turn to order her glass of house white until suddenly, she’s sitting alone at the bar. Karaoke Queen has turned into bar staff, and we settle in to see who’s going to be Anna’s blind date for the night.
We all know the premise: every night, a different date. Who this date will be on this particular evening is as much of a surprise to Novakovic as it is to the audience, and since nothing in this show is scripted, the feeling of unpredictability is real. Music turned off, the silent wait for Anna’s date to arrive builds up the nervous anticipation until he appears, clutching a bunch of slightly wilted flowers and a gift of a book of poems by Charles Bukowski.
They introduce themselves: teetotal Vilhjálmur (“like William. Just call me Villi”) is played by the burly, Viking-esque Icelandic-American actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who looks about eight feet tall next to the delicately diminutive Anna, a contrast that invites plenty of laughs when Anna – who, on this particular night, plays a vegan Serbian MMA coach who used to live in Albuquerque – struggles to get her arms around him as she demonstrates one of her cage fighting moves.
The laughs come thick and fast, but there are touching moments of awkwardness and vulnerability as Anna and Villi share more about themselves. We learn that Villi “used to be an asshole” who moved to Australia from Iceland with his daughter to get away from his shady past, having somehow been mixed up with a drug dealer named Pyotr who keeps ringing his phone (“How did you get this number?”). The calls merge seamlessly with texts and calls from director Tanya Goldberg, who sits at the back deciding what each actor should do next.
Anna downs one glass of wine after another while Villi sips on his Coca-Cola (“This,” he says, gesturing at the shot of vodka Anna chases down after her third glass of wine, “is what made me an asshole”) until, drunk and weeping after belting out a duet of Mariah Carey’s “Without You”, she reveals that she’s still in love with a married man who probably still lives in Albuquerque.
“I don’t want to pretend to know where this date is going,” says Villi. Nobody knows – not the actors, not even the director. The outcome of every date night will be different, but tonight, thankfully, we end with a nnaww-inspiring, warm-hearted hug and a promise to meet up for a vegan pancake breakfast (“without being together in-between”), and the gentle chemistry between the two actors feels as real as between two people on a real blind date.
The Blind Date Project, a sell-out show in New York, Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, is an honest rendition of the all-too-human vulnerability and hope that comes with the single person’s search for love. It’s a show so good you’d happily go along to several more just to see what happens, to see whether Anna will eventually find The One.
The Blind Date Project is being presented at the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Artspace until June 25 as part of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
See more Cabaret Festival stories and reviews on InReview here.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.