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Love Me Now - a play about sexual politics in the Tinder Age

6 April 2018 Suzanne Frost

The set for Love Me Now is nothing but a bed. Here we witness how characters A and B embark on a sexual entanglement that is never a relationship but a game with no winners. In her own words Michelle Barnette wrote “a story about a woman trying to find out what went wrong in her life. She’s been in this horribly toxic relationship that started as drudgery and over time deteriorated into something that she doesn’t recognise anymore and she is trying to figure out what she could have done.”

Alistair Toovey and Helena Wilson in Love Me Now. Credit of Helen Murray

Set as a memory play, we jump through time, witnessing scattered little scenes and slowly piece together a narrative. Because love and sex are just a game and commitment is way too intimate and not a smart move anyway, these two people push and pull at each other until it resembles more of a struggle, a fight for little wins. Love is a transaction and everyone is looking to make the best deal.
 
“This kind of culture does get worse by things like Tinder. It is literally designed to be like a game, it’s designed to become addictive”, says Barnette. “ With an infinite number of possibilities in your pocket, why would you settle for this person you know from university? It’s the possibility of maybe.”
 
Ultimately, human beings crave some kind of companionship, she considers, but the superficiality of it is really dangerous: “On one hand it’s easy, its transactional, we don’t have to think about it - but the moment the silence comes… nothing is meaningful. It can be really damaging.” In their determination to keep it casual and purely about sex, objectification and misogyny soon rear their ugly heads while the girl, eager to give as much as she gets when it comes to feeling disposable, soon realises that sexual liberation doesn’t really empower her as expected.
 
Helena Wilson and Alistair Toovey in Love Me Now. Credit of Helen Murray

With love or even minimal affection out of the question from the start for this couple, flirtatious teasing turns ever more demeaning, little nudges become insults, boundaries get tested, then torn and trampled.

“But it would be too easy blaming Tinder. Its not the apps fault that there is a market for it.” Instead Barnette sees it as stemming back to people not treating each other as human beings. “I don’t think it is a new phenomenon and I don’t think it’s going away. We just didn’t speak about it. The play was written very much before #MeToo and it was based on all these dating experiences of how horrible and destructive and emotionally traumatising it can be. All the ways you can psychologically, emotionally, physically abuse the person that you’re with as a way of manipulating them, controlling them, make them feel unsafe or less than human. There are so many ways we can hurt each other. At what point does it become deliberate, at what point does that boundary go too far?”
 
The play raises questions of consent and shines a sharp light into all the grey areas of smashed boundaries, toxic games, intimacy without respect and how easily you end up in violent situations that nobody intended. Casually piled up cruelties hollow out bit by bit any empathy or humanity and, ever spurred on by what they can get away with, the play culminates in a chilling scene of violence around which the play revolves.
 
“The thing that happens in this play, he would never go to jail for.” Barnette states. “Women are continually told: ‘ that didn’t happen, you’re lying. They would never do that.’ But what if they did?”

 Alistair Toovey and Helena Wilson Love Me Now credit of Helen Murray

It may be to do with apps like Tinder or what we consume in other media forms and from our peers or from inherent misogyny that we absorb in our day-to-day life. “It’s a shame that it does happen but we are not making anything better by keeping our mouths shut and pretending it doesn’t exist” Barnette declares. “But as amazing as these conversations are to have, it takes so much painful re-evaluation of our own existence. People don’t want to consider themselves a victim but equally, if there’s someone that you love and trust, you don’t want to consider them a perpetrator. “

“My actors are absolute champs”, Barnette affirms, “Alistair Toovey’s character in particular was a really hard role to cast. It was so important to us that he doesn’t become a caricature or someone who is outwardly horrible. Most people aren’t good or bad, there’s a million shades of grey. We want to show somebody who was told not to do that, somehow falling into the trap of engaging in that way. It was so important to show his humanity and how far you can fall and see what pushes you. The play is as much about how he gets there as it is about her finding a way out.”
 
Michelle Barnette by Hannah Ellison

To insure that the actors feel safe in such an exposing play, the team brought in a fight and intimacy director to make sure there is an ongoing conversation of consent in rehearsals. Have we gone too far with our need for safekeeping? Are we becoming the “snowflakes” older generations accuse us of being? “I think anything that helps people feel more safe can’t be a bad thing. Safe words in rehearsal room for these intimate moments are just professional and necessary. We are protecting our actors as human beings. In real life, it’s negotiating what you need in each situation in a way that is honest and hopefully mutually beneficial. We could all do to be more kind to each other and to ourselves.”
 
Love Me Now is often hilarious with witty dialogues and familiarity that is easy to relate to but it also packs a real punch in every millennial’s gut. Love seems completely absent from all its relationships and the little acts of cruelty reverberate back and fourth and into future relationships leaving behind a trail of damaged people. It is a brutally honest play exposing all the masks we put on to protect ourselves because being vulnerable is dangerous. It always has been. And in this toxic atmosphere love really is a losing game.
 
 
Love Me Now is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 14 April. Tickets: £15/£12
 
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