Pros: A non-judgemental look at modern dating in the big city, minus most of the clichés, by hit theatre company DryWrite. Main character Dee is complex and intriguing.
Cons: Dee’s interactions with one character, Miles, don’t feel as connected to the rest of the plot. Others, like Paddy and Vera, could have been explored further.
It was love at first sight when I spotted the set design for Touch, made by Ultz. His brief, to create a chaotic one-bed flat for main character Dee, where ‘every surface and corner is filled with something’, might sound far-fetched, but it was as if he’d used my bedroom as inspiration. If Marie Kondo, queen of tidying and minimalism, saw either Ultz’s design or my room, she’d lose the will to live. Or, like the many visitors to Dee’s flat, she’d beg the occupant to get their act together. But, like many millennials, 33-year-old Dee (Amy Morgan) lives in a state of flux and mess.
To clarify: she has a temporary job, she’s in a new city, at the mercy of a landlord who doesn’t care about her mouse infestation; plus, she doesn’t know what she wants in her love life. A steady but overbearing boyfriend? A friend with benefits? An ex-boyfriend with puppy dog eyes? Throughout Touch, Dee works her way through the options, but without a Hollywood montage or a sense of idealistic mission – she just genuinely doesn’t have a clue what she wants or how to get it.
Touch doesn’t have the twists and turns and manipulation of Fleabag (DryWrite’s most successful play, turned into a cult TV series), but its characterisation is spot-on. Writer and director Vicky Jones deliberately makes her characters flawed and, at times, frustrating, but they never lose their realism. Yes, even when Dee stages an impromptu ‘stripper’ dance for posh Tinder date Eddie (James Marlowe) to surreptitiously tidy her messy flat with every move. Morgan shines as Dee, one minute vulnerable and wondering whether her sexual preferences undermine her feminism, the next minute staking her claim to independence. She calls out Eddie’s controlling tendencies – mainly his suggestion that ‘I train you’, but she doesn’t complain about his creepy term of endearment, ‘kitten’.
Dee’s flat rotates on a platform, and supporting cast members bounce in and out of the flat set-up as required. Only one, the mysterious Miles (James Clyde) feels out of place. It takes a while for Miles’ purpose to be revealed, and his story feels like a sub-plot rather than part of the plot itself, especially as it comes with minimal laughs. In contrast, scenes featuring Dee’s friend and love interest Vera (Naana Agyei-Ampadu), or the faux streetwise office intern Paddy (Edward Bluemel) feel electric. This may be because Agyei-Ampadu and Bluemel both have scene-stealing roles with some of the funniest lines, including Vera’s comparison of dating to the poem We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and Paddy’s suggestion that ‘We can play long-term boyfriends and girlfriends if it gets you going’. What’s more, everyone knows a Paddy – you’ve worked with him in your office, spotted his rich boy privilege, private school ‘banter’ and the lothario image he’s desperate to cultivate but failing miserably at. His status stands in contrast to Dee’s: she’s stuck in a crummy flat, on a temporary contract, her toilet’s broken and she can’t even afford a decent bottle of wine. This play isn’t a moralistic tale of the housing crisis, but it does shine a light on the lives of those without Paddy’s privilege.
If you’re looking for a neat resolution, you won’t find it at the end of Touch, but then a happy ending wouldn’t fit in Dee’s world – the loose ends, which can’t be tidied neatly away or swiped left into the ether on Tinder, are part of the appeal.
Written and Directed By: Vicky Jones
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/touch
Booking Until: 26 August 2017