ROUNDABOUT @ Summerhall
If you went on a date and could be brutally honest to the person you’re meeting for the first time, what would you say? Would you perhaps tell them that their job sucks? Or maybe that the only reason you’re there is to get over your ex? Would you ever take the bull by the horns and ask whether you’re going to end up in bed together and how regularly you’d be having sex with them? Or instead make them promise to spend the next fifty years with you?
In this piece of new writing presented by Paines Plough, Mancunian author Miriam Battye dissects the scenario of a first date with heart-wrenching frankness. Any attempt to pinpoint whether we are watching a drama or a comedy might prove challenging, and this play might be better described as a satirical drama or a painful comedy. Personally, I am more inclined towards the former, as I left the auditorium with a bitter aftertaste from the way it ends. No spoilers here, don’t worry!
Jenny (Letty Thomas) and Adam (Archie Backhouse) meet in a pub and are navigating the conventional interactions of a first in-person encounter. Only Jenny can’t be bothered with the pleasantries, and constantly pokes the conversation with unfiltered remarks that make her non-confrontational companion shrink in his seat. She blatantly has a chip on her shoulder, from all the casual wrongs she has previously been a victim of; all the ghosting, the mansplaining and the gaslighting. However it’s hard to sympathise, as she deliberately puts an unwilling Adam on the spot at any given opportunity. She’s mouthy and he’s overly apologetic, in an ill-conceived pairing that makes us as uncomfortable as he visibly feels.
Set in the round (the clue is in the venue’s name), Rhys Jarman’s pivoting platform allows the whole audience to appreciate the action from different angles. It’s a striking metaphor for the actual him-her dynamics in which, despite the array of perspectives on offer, it is nigh on impossible to take sides.
Regardless of its outcome, the date is a relatable toxic cocktail of self-destructive insecurity, deep-seated trauma and inability to live in the moment, enacted by Thomas and Backhouse with blistering realism. It dispassionately exposes the vulnerability of many relationships to the hand of egotistic partners who fail to meet halfway. Fast forward to the end of our seventy minutes and we’re gutted to find out that Jenny – who has been leading proceedings until this point – can’t be as frank with herself as she has been with Adam.
Written by: Miriam Battye
Directed by: Katie Posner
Produced by: Paines Plough, Soho Theatre, Belgrade Theatre, Landmark Theatres
Strategic Love Play played as part of EdFringe 2023.