A man and a woman meet for a first date – there’s no instant connection, in fact quite the opposite. But they stay; they talk; they persevere. They explore the inner parts of themselves that have led them to this moment, and through their growing connection, we gain a vivid insight into the real people behind the cold and, frankly, ghost-ly veneer that has become the world of modern dating.
This script is a refreshing exploration of the experience of dating in the modern age – Miriam Battye has written an artistic triumph, deftly balancing realism and absurdity. She serves sharp wit and hysterical punchlines, interspersed with the most heart-breaking glimpses into one of the most relatable human experiences of our time. Somehow, the writing marries bleakest cynicism with uplifting hope and single-and-dating audience members leave the theatre having shared a cathartic, if close to the bone, experience!
Other than a very few moments of over-performing for such an intimate space, performances in this two hander are near-faultless. Archie Backhouse gives us a beautifully grounded portrayal of (the every)“Man”, nailing every comic beat with expert subtlety. In a completely contrasting but equally proficient performance, Letty Thomas blows us away with energised intensity as “Woman”; she switches seamlessly between chaotic bravado and devastating openness, both sides of the character played with full and raw honesty – we are utterly captivated by her mere presence and commitment to character at every second.
It is the portrayal of their connection with each other, however, that is truly mesmerising. The chemistry of this pair is undeniable, a great surprise as we come to realise that the uncomfortable lack of synergy felt early on is entirely crafted and performed to perfection. The way they navigate the script with ease and grace, stumbling over their perfectly-learned lines and cutting each other off with effortless naturalism, is quite something to behold.
How these performers manage to depict excruciating awkwardness building to gritty tension before folding into a natural tenderness is the result of exquisite casting by Jacob Sparrow, and fantastic direction at the hands of Katie Posner. Posner’s direction – no doubt in close collaboration with Dramaturg Gillian Greer – is deliberate, careful, and squeezes every last drop of tension, emotion, and chaos from this beautiful script. She manages to find energy and depth in the most simplistic of scenes: two people sharing a pint. Credit, too, must be paid to Gabrielle Nimo (Movement Director) and Robbie Taylor Hunt (Intimacy Director) who’s mark is evident on Backhouse and Thomas’ masterful command of the space.
Rhys Jarman’s set, deceptively simple, houses some energising surprises (albeit one that is unnecessarily perplexing) that serve to draw us deeper into the intimacy before us, cleverly infused with and enhanced by Rajiv Pattani’s mostly subtle but incredibly effective lighting design. Though the tinny background pub music is a little distracting at times, Beth Duke’s sound brilliantly compliments the most heightened moments of the piece.
A fabulous production; a bright future must be in store for this play and the entire cast and creative team!
Strategic Love Play runs at Soho Theatre until 23 September.
Review: Penny Lane Photo: Pamela Raith