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Strategic Love Play Review

Strategic Love Play by Miriam Battye

Soho Theatre 6th - 23rd of September

Review by Aisling Towl

In Your Eyes - BADBADNOTGOOD ft. Charlie Day Wilson

In theory, a first date should be full of exciting promise. You tell someone you’re going on one, or have just been on one, and they want to know all about it. In reality though, they’re often awkward, anti-climactic or boring, or leave you with a sense of existential dread, questioning why you bothered to put on a nice top and eyeliner. In Miriam Battye’s Fringe First winning new play, characters Her and Him are determined to curtail the woes of modern dating, each in different ways. 

BADBADNOTGOOD and Charlotte Day Wilson’s 2016 In Your Eyes is a slow, silky modern soul-jazz track that sets forth the promise of an evening as it sits in the air between two people. There’s a mischievous undertone to the seduction of Day Wilson’s lyrics as well as a darkness; something urgent and other fuelling desire. 

Before the night is over - Joe Simon

As their stilted back-and-forth progresses, it becomes clear She is after Real Connection, but totally disillusioned with the idea of ever finding it. He makes a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful effort at convincing Her He’s perfectly satisfied having medium-term, medium-commitment relationships with a conveyor belt of women, never sticking around long enough for even a ‘smidge’ of doubt to set in. Though this surely renders them incompatible, She has a strange proposition for him. Beth Duke’s sound design creates the impression the two are standing at the edge of another world together, raising the stakes of your average will they/won’t they into something almost life and death. 

If you haven’t heard the song before, you might recognise Before the Night is Over from its sample on Outkast’s 2000 hit So Fresh So Clean. Simon’s soulful plea expresses a timeless romance, or delusion, depending on how you see it. Why don’t we just make-believe /  it’s not the first time? tempts Simon, as tempts Letty Tomas’s acerbic, undeniably charming Her. Why not just pretend, together, for each other?  

Barbie World- Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice

With the cultural phenomenon of Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie still so fresh, it was hard not to be reminded of ‘She’s everything/ he’s just Ken’ with this dynamic. This is in no way a comment on Archie Backhouse's brilliant performance - he is utterly convincing as a Nice Guy, absolutely never beating the allegations that ‘Nice’ = Boring when it comes to dating. She runs rings around him intellectually and carries the conversation almost entirely on her shoulders, whilst he seems concerned only with being ‘nice’, i.e. entertaining this deranged woman he is definitely not attracted to, but only until the exact point when it would no longer be considered rude to leave. 

Part of the Barbie soundtrack, Minaj and Ice Spice sample Aqua’s deranged bubblegum-pop nineties hit of the same name. Thomas’s Her is a livewire, honest and caustic to a fault, perfectly offset by Backhouse’s passive, smiling Ken-like artifice - which falls away to a charming, genuinely lovable vulnerability in the second half. 

T.O.N.Y - Solange

As the two begin to open up, set designer Rhys Jarman’s revolving pub table set aids the flow beautifully. We’re missing people we can’t have, She remarks, ‘we’ seeming to mean, in this moment, all of us, somehow, in one way or another, not just the two of them. This is a quiet revelation but it is proved right in a monologue beautifully delivered by Blackhouse. Katie Posner’s direction takes the production from strength to strength in these more tender moments, emotions heightened in scene transitions through Gabrielle Nimo’s seamless snapshots of movement. 

I could’ve been in love by now/ if it wasn’t for Tony sings Solange on her second studio album. The song explores the pain of wanting someone you can’t have, how being hung up on someone, or something, stops you from really connecting with anyone else.

It Ain't Me Babe - Bob Dylan

By the time the play ends, we feel like we’ve been with the not-quite-couple through an entire relationship, not just an evening. The script and production are both incredibly slick, packing so much into the 70 min run time. It’s also just a really great night out, strangely hopeful, fun and uplifting, shedding light on our cultural fixation with romantic love with real, belly-laugh humor. I say strangely hopeful because of Her - though a destructive hopelessness cuts through the character throughout, the play’s final moments see a U-turn that might just shift her out of it. 

It Aint Me Babe marked a departure for Dylan as a songwriter, this along with other songs on his fourth album exploring the human experience in more depth than his previous work through their lyrics. This song laments leaving someone whose expectations you cannot meet, with sadness but with certain finality. As Her and Him leave the stage, we are left with the feeling that both their lives may have been changed permanently, through meeting each other - that they may have done more for each other than either realise just yet. 


Honorable Mentions:

Washing Machine Heart - Mitski 

By Your Side - Sade

¿Quién? - Juane Molina

One Mo’ Gin - D'Angelo 

Didn’t I - Darondo


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