Writer: Michelle Barnette
Director: Jamie Armitage
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
When the woman at the centre of Michelle Barnette’s play asks her new casual sex partner what their relationship can be, he replies: “it can be anything you want it to be”. She (known simply as “B”), the modern, liberated woman, is in control, but using what freedom that she has been given to gain what she really wants is not as simple as it may have seemed.
“Now” is the keyword in the title of this excoriating new comedy, which rips apart 21st Century courting rituals and asks what, if anything, have women truly gained? As B, Helena Wilson resembles a learner driver stuck behind the wheel of a fast-moving juggernaut; she is assertive, but dithering and confused. She conforms to contemporary stereotypes, having a successful career, treating sex as a recreational activity and practicing yoga just for the sake of photographs on Instagram. Her nemesis comes in the form of a man known as “A”.
In naming (or, rather, not naming) her primary characters, perhaps Barnette is telling us that A still comes before B. Alistair Toovey’s A exudes boyish masculinity, boasting that B is just one of six current sex partners. The new order gives him a rather good deal of no-strings sex on tap until he is ready to find himself a homemaker. His misogyny is implied more than stated, but it is made clear that his brute force could always overpower a woman such as B.
When B starts to wonder how she rates alongside A’s next Tinder date, sparks start to fly. She talks of “reclaiming” her virginity and reflects that what she wants most of all is someone to cuddle up next to in bed at night. Perhaps, we think, the prim and proper Victorians had got it right after all.
The 75-minute one-act play is at its strongest in its middle section, when A and B, confined together because of a jammed door, tear into each other in a fierce battle of the sexes. Here Jamie Armitage’s production crackles, driven by short, sharp lines of dialogue which are delivered with precision by the two actors. However, the play falters with the introduction of C (Gianbruno Spena), a humourless nerd, who smothers B with false flattery and then dumps her on voicemail. Barnette’s ploy to show an alternative to A is too obvious and serves no real purpose.
Fin Redshaw’s set design, a double bed surrounded by pitch black and fluorescent tubing, resembles the boudoir of a Soho madam, perhaps too strong if meant to be a reflection of B’s lifestyle. There are occasions when the play feels as if it is going round in circles, a problem compounded by a closing scene in which snippets from earlier scenes are re-enacted. In not finding destinations for her characters, the writer is consistent with her themes, but, in terms of drama, we feel disappointed. Nonetheless, Love Me Now offers a perceptive and incisive look at modern relationships.
Runs until 14 April 2018 | Image: Helen Murray