“What is this?”
“Anything you want it to be.”
There’s a saying: “We accept the love we think we deserve…” In Michelle Barnette’s play Love Me Now, which is directed by Jamie Armitage, she explores this conundrum through the eyes of ‘B’ (Helena Wilson) and two of her relationships.
The first time we meet her, she’s spent an evening in bed with ‘A’ (Alistair Toovey). An innocuous conversation about yoga at the beginning of the play appears to be just some gentle post-coital banter. However, Barnette uses it to open up the conversation about how truthful they are with each other and what sex means to each of them.
Stuck within the flat, ‘A’s exasperated state reveals his true colours. As one of a handful of girls he sees, ‘B’ is anything but special to him. Worse than that though is his admission that he treats her badly because she’s ‘clingy’, because he doesn’t respect her, because she lets him…
Some people have no empathy for others, but ‘A’s naked contempt for monogamous relationships is further highlighted by his beratement of ‘B’ for not sleeping around. While most of what ‘A’ says is projection… gaslighting… his assertion that he used her because ‘B’ allowed it stings the most, because there is some truth to the matter. It’s enough to put anyone off relationships for life…
In ‘B’s ‘rebound’ relationship with ‘C’ (Gianbruno Spena), we see how much her time with ‘A’ has affected her in terms of what she wants now and what she expects from others. In some ways, he’s the complete opposite to ‘A’ and a proverbial ‘nice guy’. However, it’s evident that ‘B’ is working through her emotions from her last relationship and feels ‘C’s demonstrative compliments are cloying. It’s also evident that ‘C’ has high expectations for their relationship, with even his niece knowing about them dating.
For all of his initial manners, ‘C’ doesn’t appear to be very worldly (he’s surprised at her ‘unladylike’ swearing). While he puts her on her pedastal, his perception of her is a little ‘off’, which perhaps can be explained by not having the same life experience. His ‘silencing’ of her, however, defies defence or rationale… Be that as it may, he’s astute enough to sense the distance between them despite his efforts and decides to break it off with her.
The final segment of the play is less clear and while I recognised the repetition of certain scenes, seeing Toovey also playing a ‘nice guy’ with Wilson did make me wonder if this was meant to be a third boyfriend for ‘B’ – one who strikes the middle ground between ‘A’ and ‘C’. In all likelihood though, the ‘good times’ scenes are supposed to show how charming ‘A’ was at the very beginning – saying all the ‘right’ things that ‘B’ wanted to hear. The tilted bed, which in the second half of the evening resembles an illuminated pinball machine – isn’t now a place for ‘losing oneself’ but of memories that haunt her. Much like ‘Alex’ in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, what she once loved is now something she can’t abide, her heart and mind at loggerheads with each other.
Both ‘A’ and ‘C’ in their own way dictated the parameters of their respective relationships, leaving ‘B’ with little to say on the matter. At the beginning I mentioned the mantra “We accept the love we think we deserve…” If other people are calling the shots, it’s a one-sided ‘relationship’ at best. Sometimes as clichéd as it sounds, respect for oneself needs to be found before accepting what others have to offer.
© Michael Davis 2018
Love Me Now runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 14th April.