Reminiscent of Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed,’ a rumpled, messy mattress surrounded by personal detritus fills the small stage of the Tristan Bates Theatre. With its suggestively mussed sheets, it could be interpreted as having served as a site of pleasure, but perhaps more interestingly, it is also suggestive of a psyche steeped in doubt, self-neglect, and shame. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and Fin Redshaw’s powerful set design manages to evoke a seminal piece of art and capture the burdens of feminism, without a single piece of dialogue spoken.
Love Me Now is a testament to a breakdown of a relationship. The three characters in the play are all unnamed and referred to only as ‘A, B & C’ in the programme; an apt choice, as each character is experiencing their own crisis of identity. Interestingly enough, the protagonist of the piece – a woman, is given the letter ‘B’ – a subtle dig at gender bias and the current inequalities surrounding employment and pay. Writer Michelle Barnette makes her debut with a sharp, witty and intelligent piece of writing that aims to shine a light on the way society views women, particularly in regards to sex and dating. She very cleverly touches on the hypocrisy surrounding female stereotypes: ‘I don’t like the idea of you being with other men’ but ‘being a slut is definitely better than being a virgin.’ Even exploring the double standards within feminism itself – like many modern women, B has found herself putting her needs aside, and making her emotions secondary to that of a mans.
Actors Alistair Toovey and Helena Wilson (A & B, respectively), have a number of emotionally demanding scenes together, and it would be easy for the play to lull into a depressive state. However, both do well in keeping up the energy and pace of the scenes, ensuring the darker elements of the play never become too overpowering. This is further aided by the arrival of Gianbruno Spena (C), a welcome new face to provide some comic relief. Wilson plays an exceptional B, perfectly capturing her intelligence, wit and deep vulnerability. Although it’s obvious that time has been spent injecting more humanity into Toovey’s character, he is still overall an unlikeable person and it’s sometimes uncertain where his motivation comes from. Both men in general, aren’t portrayed in the best light. In keeping with the play, the space feels personal and intimate, so much so that sometimes the projection of the actors is not entirely necessary and occasionally takes away from the close and private nature of the piece.
The use of red is fitting; often associated with meanings of love, passion, strength, rage and violence, it’s found everywhere around B. Even the light design from Ben Jacob’s involves red piping strewn up and around the set, glowing an ominous scarlet between each scene change. The design of the piece is very carefully thought out and in terms of allegory, symbolism and various other theatrical devices, it is a great example of imagery in the theatre. Jamie Armitage’s direction is flawless and keeps the audience engaged at all times. Even when there is no action on stage, whispers of past conversations are repeated around the room by Andy Josephs sound design. However, it’s almost as if all this great work is not enough. With the play being set in one room and predominantly focusing on just one relationship, the use of flash-forwards and flashbacks means the piece feels overly repetitive. The reason B keeps returning to A is a mystery, as it seems obvious to the audience that they are completely unsuitable for each other. Echoing back to the original image of the mattress- she’s made her bed and now she has to lie in it!
Images: Helen Murray.