Blurred Lines – National Theatre, The Shed

Blurred-Lines-NT_2794882bIts title inspired by the infamous song from Sexist-of-the-Year Robin Thicke, Blurred Lines explores contemporary gender politics through sketches and songs.

Written by Nick Payne and directed by Carrie Cracknell, the piece covers prostitution, rape and workplace sexism. It opens with the eight-strong female cast reeling off stereotypical roles – “Northern blonde, bubbly” and “killer’s wife, non-speaking”. This is not a drama where you invest in characters and their story.

We are reminded that these are actors, presumably to place focus on the ideas. In one scene, a married couple discuss the man’s use of prostitutes who, he maintains, are in the profession by choice. But what precedes this is them bickering about who will play husband or wife, which detracts from a compelling scene. By making us aware that we are watching an act, it’s difficult to engage emotionally. Combined with the sketch format, this can be confusing and lessens the impact of ideas.

It’s a strong cast and, at times, a good script, as demonstrated by the workplace scene. A woman is confronted by her bosses who believe baby vomit on her clothes is “indicative” of her inability to cope. It raises working mother issues in an entertaining way as the female boss is painfully patronising while trying to remain politically correct.

But this scene also shows how the set detracts from powerful moments. A white staircase lit up with red lights is visually impressive but leaves the cast awkwardly navigating it in scenes where it has no relevance.

The only time the staircase works is during the performances of songs including The Crystals’ “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)” and Tammy Wynette’s “Don’t Liberate Me (Love Me)”. Interspersed between scenes, the songs work well to punctuate different points.

It concludes with a false ending – a Q&A featuring Marion Bailey as misogynistic male director and Sinead Matthew as submissive actress, discussing his motivation for including a violent bedroom scene. Sitting arrogantly with legs apart, Bailey’s performance is entertaining, but the play they discuss is not the one we have just seen – metatheatre at its most confusing.

At a time when a new wave of feminism is gaining momentum, Blurred Lines could have explored gender politics in an entertaining and thought-provoking way, but it presents issues we already know exist, without any comment. It presumably intends to make us think, but provides nothing new to think about. Like the stairs to nowhere, the play consistently tries to reach a point but never quite gets to it.