The world we live in is constantly changing, in so many ways, and it’s often surprising to look back and realise how different things are, even from just a few years ago. In the 21st century, being gay is no longer seen as a novelty, a man can impregnate a woman without touching her, and complete strangers are willing to exchange intimate details of their sex lives on Tinder. Mariko Primarolo’s powerful new play, Modern Romance, examines what it is to be in a relationship in this new world, and what love truly means to each of us as individuals.
Adam and Isaac (whose biblical names are no accident) have been together for years, and have a comfortable dynamic to their relationship: Adam’s the sweet, submissive one, who does ‘finance-y things’, while Isaac’s a loud, confident, often out-of-work actor. But when Adam decides to donate semen to help his boss Eileen have a baby, the relationship, and the couple’s roles within it, find themselves on shaky ground. While Adam’s initial decision seems to be based in self-interest – it’ll help his career if he helps his boss – it soon becomes clear that there’s a lot more to it than that, for both men. And though we never meet Eileen, we also learn a little about her life, and her reasons for choosing this unorthodox route to motherhood.
The two lovers are played by Tom Powell and Nathaniel Fairnington, with a passion and intensity that fill every inch of the tiny space at Southwark Playhouse; it almost feels like we’re intruding on a couple’s most intimate moments, and yet it’s impossible to look away. Fairnington is particularly impressive as Isaac, a young man who appears full of swagger and bravado, but in reality is riddled with insecurities and much more comfortable playing a role than being himself. Powell, in contrast, seems to grow in stature as the play goes on and Adam begins to find his own voice. Although there are no other actors on stage, both men brilliantly evoke the other characters in the story through their one-sided conversations with the likes of dinner party guests and sperm bank receptionists.
The scrapbook of memories from Adam and Isaac’s relationship is watched over from the side of the stage by a singer, Paris Richards. The singer’s role is understated, with only a few all-too-brief appearances, and yet she’s constantly performing, as she watches and reacts to the two men talking, fighting and making love. Her emotional song, about fantasy and longing for the support of a partner, is haunting and beautifully performed, lingering in the mind long after the play is over.
Modern Romance is written and directed by members of the 19-25 Young Company, and so unsurprisingly seems particularly targeted to that age group: young people falling in love right now, before they’ve really worked out who they are, let alone who they want to be with someone else. Whether modern technology helps or hinders this process is open to interpretation; Adam only begins to find himself when he decides to help Eileen have a baby, and yet through stalking her on Tinder, Isaac hastens his own downfall. For an older audience, more certain about their path in life, it may not be quite so relevant, but the play is nonetheless a compelling piece of theatre, showcasing some impressive emerging talent.
Review by Liz Dyer
Modern Romance: Can love survive the age of technology?
The landscape of love has changed. Technology is taking over. Porn is streamed directly into households. Most of your friends have a Tinder profile. Babies are made in test tubes and not people. So when Isaac is asked by a beautifully icy co-worker to donate semen to help her conceive, his relationship with Adam leads to a jealousy that is hard to define by traditional norms.
Fiercely intelligent, observant and charming, Modern Romance is an exploration of the boundaries between sex, love and science.
Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD
25th to 26th June
Box office: 020 7407 0234
Friday 26th June 2015