Emma Hemingford’s two-hander ‘Flinch’ returns for a new UK tour after its 2019 premiere at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London. Tracing the gradual breakdown of a young couple’s relationship, Flinch offers a complex perspective on modern dating. Directed by Gemma Aked-Priestley and produced by Liam McLaughlin Productions, the show emphasizes the unrelenting negotiation between words and action in defining personal boundaries and shared intimacy.
We meet Jess (Emma Hemingford), a 25-year old working actor who has just finished drama school and is on the lookout for her first break into the industry. She’s expressive, extroverted and a little self-conscious. For the last three years, she has been dating Mark (Benjamin Aluwihare), a 25-year old working professional who works as a foreign exchange broker in a financial services company. He’s neat, calm and collected. Likes Thai food and doesn’t like watching plays, unless Jess is in them. Jess has moved in with Mark in his central London apartment. An unnerving incident on their very first night together in the apartment sets of a series of conversations, rife with contradictions and confessions, unsettles their relationship. Jess is accosted by a man in the streets whilst Mark, disarmed by the sudden development, flinches and steps away from her rather than defending her. Whereas the incident gets resolved quickly, Mark’s reaction (or lack of action) in that moment deeply affects Jess. Back home, she brings it up in conversation and Mark responds defensively. This proves to be the first of many instances wherein they begin to question how they perceive each other and themselves, tapping into shared insecurities about careers, identities and relationships.
With the text, Hemingford carefully brings forth the dramatic argument between the couple. The exchange between them is deeply conversational, punctuated by awkward pauses and nervous gaps, and anyone who’s ever been a shoulder to a friend going through a break-up (or much worse, going through one yourself) is able to relate to Jess and Mark in some way. However, the dialogue risks slipping too much into being overly descriptive, a bit too repetitive in its transitions from one argument to another. At the same time, it carries that nervous, unsettling energy that characterizes such conversations and conflicts. Both characters offer us numerous reasons to sympathize with one of them, however this risks reducing the larger dramatic argument to a simple “who’s side are you on?” competition that takes the attention away from the show’s intent.
Aluwihare delivers a measured portrayal of Mark, balancing the character’s otherwise stoic persona with occasional outbursts that point to a deep-seated resentment towards Jess’ actions. Hemingford’s Jess has a deeper emotional range that not only brings out her inner conflicts but also lends her weight to the words. This is complemented by Gemma Aked-Priestley’s direction that prioritizes spoken word to open up the text for the audiences and use subtle movement direction to indicate moments of shifts in status and power between the couple. Both performers share a good call-and-response and move the action swiftly and deliberately. The set design makes full use of the Pleasance’s intimate downstairs space and places us in the middle of the action, wherein we are equally privy to the silences as we are to the words.
To summarize, Flinch is a well-crafted analysis of the many layers carried within modern-day relationships, and the clash between individual and shared identities.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 25th November 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★