There’s a lot packed in this short twenty-minute episode of Blindly Dating. There are endearing characters, questions asked (none of which are answered… yet), and a lot of heart that makes it just tick off the metaphorical list of what a lockdown comedy should be. It’s doesn’t spend too long setting up the Covid-world we live in, and instead hones in on its characters and comedic elements that give even its pilot a well-rounded feeling. While it may not be perfect, nothing in the world is quite perfect at the moment, and that’s where it draws its strength. As the start of something quite possibly beautiful, Blindly Dating‘s first episode is a hit through and through, a surprising outing from the University of Southampton’s Theatre Group (TG) and a testament to writer-director Elle Bogle’s vision.
The synopsis of Blindly Dating is as followed: Libby (Annabel Hughes), a young woman living alone is going on a succession of blind dates. The dates, set up by her best friend Ed (Josiah Chamberlain), range from the okay-ish to the hilariously embarrassing. As he sifts through his singletons address book trying to find her a match, Libby will always find a myriad of reasons to end the dates before she gives them a chance to truly begin… As the series progresses, we gradually discover more and more about her and Ed and uncover, along with them, what lies beneath the surface.
Filmed like a video call (much in the same vein as the TV show Staged), the pilot episode picks up on Libby’s first date with Ava (Mika Woods). Opening on a drinking Libby with a bottle of wine hid out of shot, there’s already something endearingly human and funny about her as a character that Hughes embodies with perfection. While later she oozes confidence and charisma, there lies a hint of unearthed vulnerability that makes it easier to connect to her as a character. Alongside her though is Ava, a cheery, slightly chaotic lawyer who is more than happy to indulge in Libby’s romanticised fantasies and stare contently at her. While the script doesn’t afford Ava as much time to shine as Libby, Woods gives it her all and proves equally pleasant to watch, matching the endearing humanness that episode pulls of so perfectly. Even the short, voiced appearance of Deb (Daisy Gazzard) lends a feeling of authenticity to characters on screen because the episode’s opening moments are anything but smooth. It’s rocky (intentionally) and funny because it illustrates all the technical mayhem many of us have often had during a video call of some sort.
When eventually Libby’s and Ava’s call ends, it sets up the second main character’s entrance in the form of Ed (Josiah Chamberlain). What’s remarkable about Chamberlain’s performance as well as the script is that it doesn’t reduce the queer character to a stereotype or cliché. There’s a sort of underlying upper-class sass that’s reminiscent of Stephen Fry in all his glory but isn’t overplayed or one-note. Likewise, Hughes and Chamberlain’s interaction oozes an on-screen charisma and chemistry that it’s genuinely easy to watch as they interact with each other, and makes me excited for future interactions between the two. Because as much as it is Libby’s story, there are elements of Ed that could make for interesting exploration in future episodes as well.
It’s easy though to think that an ABC of dating may fall into gimmick territory, but Blindly Dating is anything but a gimmick. Elle Bogle clearly takes care in crafting her characters. There’s a hint of the complexity that is Libby and her relationship with Ed feels real. Ava may serve as an introduction to a whole concept that will define later episodes of the show, but she’s not a one-trick pony that lacks genuine character. Even Libby’s wordy monologues and fictionalisation of the world has something about it that just works well in bringing her to life, and it’s exciting to wonder what we can expect next from her.
Finally, the way it’s filmed is another notable strength of the show. There’s a rugged charm to Blindly Dating that surprisingly works, whether that be the sometimes fuzzy camera quality, the lag between mouth and sound, or even the occasional echo. The reason it works is that it’s exactly the reality of video calls – the quality is never perfect. While admittedly at one point an echo completely drowns out what one character says, it’s only a small hiccup that is only ever going to be relatable. At the end of the day, this a student-led project teaming with ambition while respectful of its own limitations. Rather than trying to obnoxiously ignore those restrictions, Blindly Dating celebrates them and makes them work without hounding the experience. Everything still functions well enough to make for an enjoyable experience.
It’s great to see something like Blindly Dating, born out of a hard period for all industries in the entertainment world. It turns trial into a strength and creates an enjoyable experience that was worth every moment of watching. There really is very little to fault with the pilot episode, and I for one am excited to see the later adventures of Libby and her dates.
Blindly Dating premiers Monday, April 12th on SUSU Theatre Group’s YouTube channel. You can watch below.