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Review of Love Me Now at Tristan Bates Theatre London

Gianbruno Spena, Helena Wilson and Alistair Toovey, Love Me Now, credit of Helen Murray
Gianbruno Spena, Helena Wilson and Alistair Toovey, Love Me Now, credit of Helen Murray

Has dating ever been easy? Years ago, finding the elusive Mr/Ms Right was apparently fairly simple. Everyone stayed in the same area they were born in and would either marry someone they had grown up with or someone they met at work – in the 1970s it was estimated 25% of people married someone they first met in the workplace. Nowadays, it should be really simple. There are dating websites and dating apps aplenty. In fact, you don’t even need to want to start dating, there are apps where like-minded people can meet to enjoy the simple pleasures of each other’s company. However, in Michelle Barnette’s new play Love Me Now at the Tristan Bates Theatre, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for.

The play revolves around three people identified only as A (Alistair Toovey), B (Helena Wilson) and C (Gianbruno Spena). A and B are old friends – they have known each other since uni – who started a relationship together that has got to point where it is simply sex and nothing else. An example of how their relationship has deteriorated is when B spontaneously gives A fellatio and his response afterwards is ‘thanks babe’. The problem is A is good looking, extremely fit, a bit of a bad boy and a fixed point in B’s mind. A’s feelings towards B are more simple and also more complex – if that isn’t the ultimate oxymoron – and there for want of a better word, relationship is very confusing because of this. Still, B does have other options. For example, she tries a date with C, who couldn’t be more opposite in personality to A if he tried. Or could he? Ultimately what does A want? Does she even know for sure?

Love Me Now is a well-written play about the complexity of relationships in the twenty-first century. The majority of the action focuses on A and B and is comprised of time-hopping scenes going back to earlier in their relationship, even at one point right back to the beginning. I have to admit, I found this a little confusing at first but got into it quite quickly. Just as the kitchen is often said to be the heart of the home, so the large raised bed amongst discarded clothes – was set designer Fin Redshaw inspired by Tracey Emin? – was at the heart of this play and B’s life.

Alistair and Helena had very difficult roles to play as A and B respectively. Both characters are way more complicated than they appear at first sight, and both change so much from the two people we see first getting together to the couple facing off against each other, that they are almost different people. The two actors do a fine job and there is a real depth of emotion in their portrayal. There was actually a point in the play where I felt a tinge of worry that Alistair would not pull back from what was happening – so realistic was the portrayal at that moment. A lot of this is down to a combination of good acting and first-rate directing by Jamie Armatage – along with Fight/Intimacy Director Enric Ortuno. A quick word on Gianbruno Spena. C is not a massive part but Gianbruno really brings something special to it. There were moments when I, and quite a few of the audience around me, really bristled with anger over C’s actions – in fact, we were talking about him as we left the theatre, so nice work by Gianbruno there.

Although it makes writing a review more difficult, I liked the fact that the characters weren’t named, making them a sort of everyman/everywoman and more easy to identify with as they made their various choices through life.

All in all, Love Me Now is a more powerful and thought-provoking production than you might expect from a one-act play with only a seventy-five-minute runtime. Talking afterwards with some other audience members and we all felt there were times when elements of the play really resonated with us on an individual level. For me, it really brought home the difficulties that come when ‘choice’ is too easy. Just as in a supermarket when confronted with a huge number of choices in the fresh eggs aisle, all of the apps and websites out there don’t guarantee I will get my heart’s desire on the dating front – even if I knew for sure what that was. A well-written and well-acted production guaranteed to hit you emotionally and give you something to mull over on your way home.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Throwing a sharp light on casual relationships and today’s hook-up culture, Love Me Now is about the toxicity of casual dating and the grey area between love and sex, consent and compliance, yes and no. Brutal, funny and honest as hell, Michelle Barnette’s debut play explores the superficial intimacies we share and the defensive barriers we put up.

Written in 2015, when Tinder’s popularity was on the rise, Barnette asks why millennials have come to view the relationships and sex as transactional. It has since become apparent that this is not just a story that needs telling, it’s a story that everyone seems to be living in some capacity. Directed by Jamie Armitage, the team includes OV12 Alumni and Linbury Prize winner Fin Redshaw, and 2018 Offies Finalist for Best Lighting Design Ben Jacobs.

Writer Michelle Barnette
Director Jamie Armitage
Casting Director Sarah-Jane Price
Set & Costume Designer Fin Redshaw
Sound Designer Andy Josephs
Lighting Designer Ben Jacobs

Cast
A Alistair Toovey
B Helena Wilson
C Gianbruno Spena

Love Me Now
Performance Dates Tuesday 27th March – Saturday 14th April 2018
Running time 75 minutes
Twitter @TristanBates, @Mich_Barnette, #LoveMeNowPlay
Tristan Bates Theatre, 1a Tower St, London WC2H 9NP
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/

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