Love Me Now at the Tristan Bates Theatre
The fragmented structure of Michelle Barnette’s debut play can take a little while to get used to. But once you get your head around the series of flashbacks interrupting the gradually more and more harrowing main narrative, Love Me Now is a wonderfully sparky piece of theatre – despite the heavy subject matter – with crisp dialogue that can make you genuinely gasp as well as laugh. The story is centred around a woman – known to us only as B – and her relationship with A, an old university friend with whom she is sleeping. The first half of the drama, while moving across time, pulls you deeper into the characters’ problems. As we see A becoming more and more manipulative and abusive, the sense of horror and frozen discomfort Barnette creates is tangible. We then observe B attempting to move on and enter a relationship with another man (C). Her new partner at first seems well-adjusted and stable, but we quickly begin to see glimpses of the same desire to control as we saw in A, and B is still haunted by memories of her previous lover. This final section, while effective in depicting the lasting psychological consequences of abuse, nonetheless feels overly long and lacks the clarity of the first half.
These any-person roles are brought to life admirably by Helena Wilson as B, Alastair Toovey as A and Gianbruno Spena as C. Wilson captures perfectly her character’s vulnerability and fragility without losing any of her fierceness, remaining both assertive and lost at the same time. Toovey captures a real sense of menace for A, seeming genuinely frightening despite his casual manner. They are directed by Jamie Armitage, who guides the play through its fragmented structure with care.
The production is thoughtfully designed by Fin Redshaw, with red neon tubing looped above the white bed and over the headboard. This contrast is continued into the costumes, with B wearing red trousers and a T-shirt reading “voulez vous”. She later dons a green dress and dressing gown, the clashing colour suggesting her attempts to move on. A sports T-shirts in dark green and dark red at the opposite times to B, a wonderfully understated nod to their emotional disconnect.
Despite some occasional problems with the pacing and a final act that drags and confuses at times, Barnette has created a fascinating and compelling piece. So often, theatre that is trying to be relevant falls down in actually creating engaging narratives, but Love Me Now is incredibly timely in its discussion of women’s agency and sexual abuse, without losing any of the emotional connection or sympathy which we feel for the heroine.
Photo: Helen Murray
Love Me Now is at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 27th March until 14th April 2018. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Love Me Now here: