Strategic Love Play – Edinburgh Fringe 2023, Summerhall

Reviewer: Tom Ralphs

Writer: Miriam Battye

Director: Katie Posner

At an anonymous bar in an anonymous city, two people known only as Him and Her meet for a date after they both swiped right. It’s a set-up that has probably been used more than once by playwrights in recent years, but few have taken such an original twist on the idea as writer Miriam Battye has done in her new play at Roundabout in Summerhall.

Him is expecting a traditional date and that seems to be the way it’s going to go at first as the opening nervous exchanges play out, but the politeness and small talk bores Her. She wants something more from the date. She wants to provoke him and get him to step away from the all too polite and meaningless exchanges that tell people nothing about their potential partner.

With no time for social niceties and no filter between her thoughts and her words, Her says all the things people can’t say but are thinking both before a first date and after it, as well as during it. It leads Him and Her into a conversation where they can imagine various futures, reveal their hopes and fears and acknowledge themselves as damaged goods. Any lies are quickly spotted, questioned and broken down until He at least is an open book. Her is harder to read as she moves between displays of confidence that seem to be a mask for self doubt, and self doubt that appears to be a way of avoiding seeming too confident.

There are some will they won’t they moments and some nicely observed minutiae such as the careful but unusual opening of a packet of crisps, and the protocols of the right number of drinks to buy to avoid being seen as disinterested or over eager.

Letty Thomas as Her and Archie Backhouse as Him are both superb as Katie Posner’s direction picks up every nuance in the script without ever over playing them. Thomas controls the conversation with a range of expressions and speech patterns that add playfulness and accusation to her words in equal measure. Backhouse takes his lead from Her, always playing catch-up and never sure of what he might be letting himself in for.

The only criticism is that the script seems to miss an obvious point to stop about five minutes before the end. The final coda seems like it has been bolted on to make a point that has been clear all along and in doing so it prevents an ending that would be perfect for the evening that has been played out.

Runs until 27 August 2023 | Image: Contributed

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