Love Me Now
Tristan Bates Theatre
Reviewed – 29th March 2018
“a relevant and contemporary narrative that explores consent within a relationship”
The stage is taken up by a sloping double bed, red material snaking up the headboard to weave through the ceiling, clothes strewn, all slightly reflected in the shining black floor. Designer Fin Redshaw punctuates set and costume alike with bright red, a colour that bring out the intensity of the piece and mixes sexuality with foreboding. Michelle Barnette’s debut play is opened by B (Helena Wilson) entering through the audience, staring wide eyed at us as she moves to the stage, ‘Voulez Vous’ emblazoned across her T-shirt.
In B’s flat, A is preparing to leave post sex but when the door gets stuck, the pair are forced to discuss what exactly is going on between them. Interspersed with snapshots of their relationship prior to now, what begins as a conversation about a relationship unearths an ugly and pervasive misogyny. This is a relevant and contemporary narrative that explores consent within a relationship, the silencing of women, and the double standard surrounding sex and gender, that slut-shames women who have lots of sex and deems them “whores”, yet normalises and accepts this behaviour in men.
Helena Wilson is fantastic as B, urgent and warm, rounded and relatable, she comes alive onstage and is impossible to stop watching. Alistair Toovey as A is utterly unlikeable, callous and violent. Gianbruno Spena offers sinister comedy as C, but his characterisation feels the most stylised, the least natural.
What should have been the final scene is incredibly powerful, as B prepares to go out, shaking hand applying lipstick after a scene of near rape and near domestic abuse. This is an image of absolute strength in its vulnerability, reminding the audience how unfortunately normal this kind of narrative is, how many people have experiences like this and are forced to carry on. This should have been a brutally moving final moment.
Unfortunately this is not where the play ends. There is another half hour yet to come of light relief that descends into something more sinister, and a replay of earlier scenes, that seem an unnecessary over-labouring of the point. This second segment of the play does not take us anywhere we had not already arrived at, and does not give the audience and the actor credit for being able to understand and deliver respectively the impact of what has happened to B in her single lingering stare.
This is a compelling and moving piece of theatre with a stunning performance from Helena Wilson, that just didn’t know when to end.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Helen Murray
Love Me Now
Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th April
The Lady From the Sea
Reviewed – 21st October 2017
“Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness”
“The Lady From The Sea” is probably Ibsen’s most symbolic work. It is centred on Ellida, the female protagonist caught in a conflict between duty and self-determination. Stuck in her marriage to Doctor Wangel, she longs for the sea. When a former lover returns from years of absence, she is forced to decide between freedom and the new life she has made for herself.
The action is transplanted from the icy Norwegian fjords to a sultry Caribbean beach, where the stifling heat adds to the feelings of being trapped, as relationships untangle and are knotted back together again, in Elinor Cook’s adaptation. Cook’s text, coupled with the strength of the performances, draws one into a fresh way of looking at the play. The language has an easy, contemporary feel bringing a crisp clarity to Ibsen’s themes: the divide between men and women. Even back in the late nineteenth century Ibsen called this “the modern tragedy”, presciently claiming that “a woman cannot be herself in today’s society” because it is shaped and dictated by men.
Kwame Kwei-Armah, the next artistic director of the Young Vic, is at the helm. His uncluttered direction gives ample space for the comedy to tease through. Ibsen’s observations were often so acute they were funny – and Kwei-Armah embraces this. Throwing some tropical heat into the mix adds an extra, spicy lightness of touch. However, the Caribbean setting is not fully explored, and is often pushed into the margins. There is scant reference to the location and, during the more introspective moments, Lee Curran’s moody lighting too often dips back into the cold North Atlantic.
The play’s action takes place on the day that the doctor’s daughters from a previous marriage are preparing the celebrations for their dead mother’s birthday. Ellie Bamber and Helena Wilson excel in playing the daughters, their loyalties torn between the memory of their mother and the grudging acceptance of their stepmother. Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Ellida is hypnotic, lending elegance to her deep-rooted longing that teeters on madness. Finbar Lynch is a master at portraying the dilemma Elida’s husband faces. His commanding performance, just a few feet from the audience, impels us to share his turmoil: his struggle to reconcile his self-perceived duty as a husband with that of giving his wife the freedom of choice. Initially he believes that withholding that freedom of choice is protecting her, and it is only when he finally relinquishes his hold on her that they are both freed from the ghosts that haunt them.
There is a surprising simplicity to the play, which is its appeal. The key themes are the subject of countless pop songs in today’s world. There are tragic moments but it’s also a play about love. But unlike many a pop song this play is perfectly pitched. There is a harmony in the collision of the two worlds; the spiritual and the political. “Paradise is all well and good until you’re trapped in it” echoes one of the characters. The strength of this production lies in the overriding feeling that Ibsen could have written this yesterday. Testament, not only to the playwright himself, but also to the team that have brought this pearl to the Donmar Warehouse.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Manuel Harlan
THE LADY FROM THE SEA
is at the Donmar Warehouse until 2nd December