Friday, March 30, 2018

Review: 'Love Me Now' at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 29th March 2018

Love Me Now reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Oscar Wilde said "Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power." and while I know beginning a theatre review with an Oscar Wilde quote is unbelievably pretentious, it neatly sums up Michelle Barnette's Love Me Now. Billing itself as about "the grey area between love and sex, consent and compliance, yes and no", it attempts to map out the treacherous, windswept coastline of what we want and what we want.

Set in the bedroom of 'B' (Helena Wilson), this 75-minute long play chronicles her casual relationship with fuckbuddy 'A' (Alistair Toovey). The way it works is that confident gym-taut A arrives at B's place and the two get down to a bout of sweatily physical sex that scratches both their itches. Then he pops his jeans back on and heads out into the night. They're not monogamous, they're not in a relationship - it's a mutually pleasurable sex transaction.

That's the theory anyway. Inevitably emotions start to muddy the waters: A's determination to make this solely about sex causes him to define B purely in terms of her body and what it can do for him, which soon manifests in blunt misogyny and objectification. Meanwhile, B wants to play out the no-strings-attached, sex-positive archetype, but finds herself dismayed and alienated by the way A minimises her personhood.

And so things curdle. Before too long A is attempting to convince a clearly unhappy B to give him head, claiming they'll decide it on the flip of a coin "heads for head!", a puke-inducing situation that comes alongside frequent little nibbles at her self-esteem, behaviour and looks. These culminate in a shiver-inducingly intense scene around which the entire play revolves.

About two-thirds of the way through, 'C' (Gianbruno Spena) is introduced. At first, he appears to be the empathic, kind and sweet counterweight to A, though his obsequiousness manifests as yet another brand of condescension. Both men want B to be something she's not. B knows what she doesn't want. Trouble is, she's not sure what she does want either. What she does sense is that despite her sex-positive feminism, she's walking a path trodden by countless exploited women who've come before. Just where is the boundary between no-strings sex and being some prick's convenient sex receptacle?

It's one of those obtuse emotional knots that looks ridiculous written down - but it's safe to say that damn near everyone in the audience will be able to empathise with something here. Charting this psychological alphabet soup is a daunting proposition, which makes it all the more impressive that this is a debut play.

Aside from the way it intelligently dissects the politics 21st-century sex, Love Me Know is also extremely funny - achieving my gold standard of comedy of the audience laughing so long and hard that the actors have to wait to deliver their next line. Barnette consistently displays a dab hand with cutting, witty dialogue, reminding me of some of Patrick Marber's vicious dialogue That the play is so damn funny also makes the tonal shifts that much more effective. Laughing along with B makes you feel connected to her, which loads violent moments with the kind of gripping pain that lodges in your throat and makes your head spin. 

It adds up to a remarkable bit of writing. There are flaws: the jumbled chronology is only partly successful and the narrative collapse finale could be trimmed back quite a bit without losing any oomph. But these cracks are more than papered over by the high standard of the script, striking stage/sound design, and three excellent performances. Quality-wise there's little between them, but Helena Wilson must be singled out for the way she layers complexities onto an already densely written lead character without ever getting ahead of the script.

Love Me Now is confident, smart and stylish. It feels like a show in which everyone understands what the goal is and everyone pulls in the same direction to achieve it.  That this is Michelle Barnette's writing debut makes it even more of an accomplishment - I'll be there for whatever she does next. In the meantime, the show clearly has potential beyond this particular run, so if you miss out here I suspect it'll be transferred elsewhere before too long. 

Love Me Now is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th April 2018. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

0 Responses to “Review: 'Love Me Now' at the Tristan Bates Theatre, 29th March 2018”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights