STRATIGIC LOVE PLAY
Written by Miriam Battye
Dir. Katie Posner
Till Sat 30 Sep 2023, 70 minutes
Sept 15th, 2023
Jenny has been set up on a date with Adam. Sat at a small table in a bar, nerves or disinterest in the whole ‘dating scene’ Jenny can’t help but seemingly sabotage the date. But in a surprising twist, Jenny’s brutal honesty and her belief in what she wants in a relationship somehow find a connection with Adam. Their date moves from disaster to establishing some new guidelines and solutions to make any potential relationship work.
It’s hard not to root for them as their unconventional 'relationship' begins to take off, but when Adam says, in passing, that he doesn’t watch TV, there is a change in Jenny. She brushes it off, but something about what Adam said gives her reservations, and this would happen again later on when Adam admitted something he really ought not to to Jenny.
There is an imbalance in how we see and understand Jenny and Adam. Jenny takes the lead, and Adam, though he has strengths, tends to be willing to be led by Jenny. And it’s Adam who goes through the most changes, moving from being cold and distant to being warm and open to the somewhat weird relationship request. As for Jenny, as they get closer to their 'deal', she's intent on keeping her demands simple and is willing to allow Adam to make more demands; in fact, she insists on it.
It is only later on, long after the show has finished, that I was able to be reflective and think of the play's message and the bleak, cold, harsh truths that Jenny shares with Adam that ultimately break him. And it made me imagine the play as two souls, one bitter from a life of dating experiences and being disappointed or letdown, never able to be themselves, and the other less jaded but also less in tune to the pain he’s experienced whilst trying to find that connection with someone. The place they meet—a bar, or more specifically, a raised platform that reselbles the top of a wine or beer barrel—is a place they always meet; their punishment for not being able to find, or wanting to find, love is this strange purguatroy. It's here that they're doomed to repeat their mistakes, and that's why Jenny's story is so much more full than Adam's because she's done this many times before; her soul is tired and weary, but for Adam, this is a good experience for him, one that sees him excited and happy.
"You never lose sight of the intimacy between Adam and Jenny, and Ponser builds on these moments brilliantly."
The penultimate scene in the play, I believe, comes too soon, and I would have paced it in a way to ensure there was clearer distance between Jenny and Adam. Early on, one of the biggest laughs they got was when Adam turned up with some more beers. It's actually one of the most beautiful and touching scenes I think I have ever seen. It's a moment—a really heartbreaking moment—that says a lot about Adam and what he sees in Jenny. The end has both Adam and Jenny in the same scene; it is a cruel moment, one I feel could have been crueller still if Adam turned up a few seconds later. He then sits at the table on his phone, flicking through profiles; he's pretending he's not bothered, but then he looks up towards the door. Is he anticipating Jenny returning, or is he looking in that direction because he feels guilty for what he said to Jenny?
This last scene is sombre, and the playwright leaves us with a man who is now content to sit there and ponder what he's lost—the person he connected with in the most weird way, someone he instantly knew he wasn't going to fancy the moment they met, yet looking past all the bravado, he grew to appreciate the brutality of Jenny's honesty. That happiness he was feeling has made way for self-doubt, worry, and confusion.
Miriam Battye has written a play that is as heartfelt as it is touchingly funny and pretty salient in these emotionally complicated times. One of the greatest assets Battye has are the two leads, Archie Backhouse and Letty Thomas, who not only excel as Adam and Jenny but also exude the type of chemistry you can only wish to create with a production like this. Director Katie Posner has ensured the quickness of Battye's text is at the forefront of the production, and the show's 70 minutes fly by. You never lose sight of the intimacy between Adam and Jenny, and Ponser builds on these moments brilliantly.
Strategic Love Play is unique, filled with humour, and incredibly insightful. It manages to drag you into this bickering world of Jenny and Adam to reveal two very lost, hurt people who don't seem able to move past the game-playing stage in their courtships.