People are like swans. Hopefully, that’s got your attention and while you may be questioning my statement, it is true. We all have a surface that we present to the world but, underneath, deep inside each of us, there is a positive maelstrom of feelings and emotions not visible to others. Matty May is someone that knows this to be true and they have brought some of these inner feelings out in their one-act show If You Love Me This May Hurt which I saw at the Camden People’s Theatre.
This isn’t a play in the conventional sense, it’s more a conversation between Matty and the audience, an idea that is reinforced by the set, an armchair in front of a wall of words – lovely design work by Katherina Radeva. It becomes obvious that all of the individual words on the wall are relevant to something that Matty will be talking about as they take the audience through a journey of their life. Some words have more significance than others and – without dropping into spoiler territory – the numbers are perhaps the most important, at least until the final word takes a place of honour on the wall.
Matty himself is, at first glance, a big old cuddly bear in a shirt that I think was peach, but some may call salmon and a pair of shorts. They look like one of those affable types that would have a great fund of jokes and be the life and soul of a night out. And outwardly, Matty is all those things but, as the evening progresses, you come to realise that inside the jovial bear is a person with deep problems and is the product of a society that has in many ways failed them. Self-harm, toxic relationships and thoughts of suicide seem to never be far away for Matty. The one shining star in Matty’s life is their Nan, a wonderful old girl who’s always there for Matty.
This could be a dark and rather depressing production, but Matty knows how to throw in a line, or even a look, to break the atmosphere and give the audience a, sometimes necessary, moment of laughter. Thanks to Scott Le Crass’ direction, Lauren Woodhead’s lighting and Annie May Fletcher’s sound, the production is slick and moves fast but, and I mean this in the best possible way, there is a lovely air of relaxed informality that adds a layer of reality to the production and makes it seem less like a show and more like a chat with a friend. For example, at the performance I saw, Matty tripped over some words and at one point seemed to forget what they were saying. I absolutely loved this. It was a wonderful reminder that I was not just watching an actor that had memorised a script and was delivering it word perfect. No, I was there with a genuine human being for whom these events were not just words on a page but things that they had lived through.
Obviously, If You Love Me This May Hurt is very personal and full credit has to go to Matty for putting their story – complete with insecurities and vulnerabilities – out there for our entertainment. As Matty makes clear, it is very easy to feel alone and isolated but and I’m sure I speak for most people in the audience, there were moments where I fully identified with the story being told. There was one fairly long segment in the latter half of the show which could have been taken from my own life story and which had me wanting to rush the stage and share a hug with a fellow sufferer.
You’ve probably guessed by now that I really liked If You Love Me This May Hurt. Matty is a great storyteller with an engaging and warm personality and I would have loved to spend more than the roughly 70 minutes I did with them. Two final points from me. 1 – keep up the lip synching – its excellent and 2 – never get to 4.
Review by Terry Eastham
If You Love Me This Might Hurt is an uncomfortable and funny show about rage, suicide and so-called self-care. In his debut solo production, Matty May explores mental health, what it is to grow up queer and working-class around men and the trauma they inflict and the magic of having a brilliant Nan.
This show ain’t gentle babes.
Writer and performer – Matty May
Director – Scott Le Crass
Producer – Daisy Hale
Designer- Katherina Radeva
Sound Designer – Annie May Fletcher
Lighting Designer – Lauren Woodhead
Technical Stage Manager – Amy Daniel
If You Love Me This Might Hurt
Written and performed by Matty May
Directed by Scott Le Crass
Produced by Daisy Hale
Part of Camden People’s Theatre 2021 Autumn Season
Tuesday 19 – Saturday 30 October 2021