I Love You, Now What? – Edinburgh Fringe 2023, Pleasance Courtyard

Reviewer: Tom Ralphs

Writer: Sophie Craig

Director: Toby Clarke

A napkin passing as a tissue with the words ‘You might need this’ written on it, is on every seat in Beside at Pleasance Courtyard as the audience enter. It sends an immediate message that this play, by writer/actor Sophie Craig is going to tug at the heart strings, but also sets the bar high for what it has to deliver in terms of emotional moments.

The play centres around two big events in the life of Ava. These are her dad’s diagnosis and subsequent death from brain cancer, and falling in love with Theo, a young actor who she meets and sleeps with on the basis of a purely physical attraction that then develops into something more for both of them.

The meeting comes shortly after her dad’s diagnosis, and as the relationship develops, albeit with rocky patches and typical misunderstandings along the way, her dad’s health deteriorates. He is the man that Ava idealises, a musician who has inspired her own choice of career and someone she can’t imagine ever living without.

The most poignant and powerful moments in the play come shortly before his death as Ava takes pre-bereavement counselling. Craig superbly captures all the inner conflicts of someone being forced to confront a reality that she is determined to deny as she pushes back against the psychologist and Theo. When she tries to do anything that might allow her to accept the truth and start to prepare for the next phase of her life, it only serves to extend her anger to herself as it feels like she is betraying her father to even think about a life without him in it.

Andy Umerah as Theo captures the impotence of anyone in the situation his character finds himself in. He offers optimism that he knows is unjustified, and honesty that he knows is unwanted. Both serve only to reinforce the barriers that Ava is putting up, and create a doom spiral where the death of her dad and the death of the relationship seem inextricably linked.

Sean McLeavy, as her dad and John the psychologist, gives an understated performance in both roles. He is not elevated up to an unreal superhero status as the dad, and nor is he anything other than practical and pragmatic as John.

However, the episodic nature of the story and the split narrative where the play moves between the separate story strands before really trying them together ultimately mean that Ava’s relationship with her dad is under developed. We only see it after he gets his diagnosis, we never know what really made it so strong. The limited references to her mother, even though her parents don’t appear to be divorced, add to the sense that there is slightly too much telling and not enough showing to make this the exploration of grief, love and loss that the message on the napkin suggests it believes itself to be.

Runs until 28 August 2023 | Image: Alex Brenner

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