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Review of Married. But Lonely at the White Bear Theatre

Married. But LonelyThe play’s title, Married. But Lonely, brought to mind an image conjured up by a comedian who asserted some years ago that it is possible, generally speaking, to tell single people from married people on public transport. Just look at them. The married ones, unless newlywed, look po-faced and miserable. The single people sit, or stand, fresh-faced and bright-eyed and, while still observing public transport etiquette, are at least open to the possibility of conversation with similarly poised people.

Jerry (Phil Gwilliam) is, frankly, more than a tad naïve. The man is grieving the loss of his wife, and some online dating sites have emailed him asking if he would consider trying out their services. Whether this was deliberate targeting (as the play strongly and repeatedly suggests), or whether he started paying attention to the sort of spam email that ordinarily comes through anyway, as he seeks to move on and move forward, is anyone’s guess.

There are a number of soliloquies in this play, most of which come across as a stream of consciousness. The introductory scene, for instance, is very broad, and a later scene mentions telescopes, Pluto and algebra (and more besides) in one breath. This, together with some superfluous details in subsequent scenes about Jerry and the two women he (separately!) goes on dates with, Clare (Miranda Benjamin) and Veronica (Cátia Soeiro), makes getting to grips with the play seem like homework. Focus and concentration is required but becomes difficult with the struggle to see the wood for the trees.

Thankfully, things settle in the second half, after a very busy first act. All three performers have engaging manners but there were occasions when it took a while to establish, in some of the monologues, who exactly was addressing whom. A lot of people, from somebody’s mother to an entire police constabulary are, at one point or another, being blamed for something. The script always gets there eventually, to be fair, and by the end of the show there is, ultimately, no confusion with regards to the plot. But somehow it still feels harder work than perhaps it should.

Both Veronica and Clare have their eccentricities, and there’s a danger of their characters being caricatured in the extremities of emotions expressed. An example: the play’s critical incident happens, and Jerry must leave the pub immediately and head down to the hospital’s intensive care unit. All Veronica can do is wail, “What about me?” despite the clear need to attend a medical emergency. Other moments are hilarious or irritating, dependent on your disposition. One of Jerry’s dates that he ‘met’ online won’t eat anything on the menu in a restaurant, before refusing even the still water because the brand the restaurant uses is “not from the right well”, whatever that means.

There are some serious points in the play, too. This is not the first show I’ve seen that highlights the ‘stranger danger’ element of online dating and is unlikely to be the last. Such warnings, done with a mixture of subtlety and dark humour in this production, simply cannot be issued too regularly.

Elsewhere, both female characters find themselves in compromising situations, one as a result of online dating and the other the victim of domestic violence. There are lots of ‘talking heads’ and descriptions of outside events, which mercifully spares the audience the horror of seeing abuse acted out on stage.

I take away two things from this play. The first is that life is complicated. The second is that life really is too short. This is a dense and intriguing production. One more thing: it’s been twenty years since George Michael and Toby Bourke released their single ‘Waltz Away Dreaming’. On a personal note it was pleasing to be reminded of the song after so long. Without giving too much away, the lyrics aptly sum up Jerry’s situation.

Waltz away dreaming, ‘til your day begins again
Free from the seasons and this state I’m in
And oh, I can’t hold it all under one love
It was so long ago when we danced in the streets
Now you fly like an eagle above, while I waltz away anyway
And I’m waltzing my days away
Searching for this woman I love

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Jerry’s wife has recently died. Within 48 hours he’s unexpectedly contacted by two very different internet dating sites. ‘Big Brother’ clearly knows who and where he is. Intrigued by this intrusion, Jerry sets off investigating his dilemma – which site, if at all, should he choose; the ‘no strings’ type which encourages infidelity, or the other super-elite site whose users truly believe they are royalty.

Jerry meets a date from each site; chalk and cheese, Veronica and Clare, both with their own particular stories to tell. We watch him as he explores their past lives, motivations and influences. We discover why they really joined the sites they did – and what they, and fate with its cruel twists, have planned for him next.

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