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Love Me Now review at Tristan Bates Theatre, London – ‘awkward and confusing’

Alistair Toovey and Helena Wilson in Love Me Now at Tristan Bates Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray Alistair Toovey and Helena Wilson in Love Me Now at Tristan Bates Theatre, London. Photo: Helen Murray

The central characters in Michelle Barnette’s debut play Love Me Now first appear to be a millennial everycouple. This is sex in the age of Tinder, where an early-evening blowjob is followed by a text, a hastily thrown-on outfit and then drinks – with different people.

But then something goes wrong. The guy (identified as ‘A’ and played by Alistair Toovey) stops just being over-confident and not that into the woman (identified as ‘B’ and played by Helena Wilson). Instead, he becomes aggressive and violent.

In Jamie Armitage’s production, the action flits about in semi-overlapping fragments. Pieces of dialogue replay with increasing frequency until the ending is a collage of lines said earlier in the play.

The earlier scenes between A and B also become mixed up with moments from a later relationship between B and her new partner C (Gianbruno Spena). These moments almost achieve some cohesion, hinting at how past trauma from sexual violence infects the future.

Toovey gives a strong performance, uttering lines like, “something’s wrong and it isn’t my dick” with commendable straight-faced bravado. But so many things about this play don’t add up. The format is confusing, and A and B make for an unconvincing coupling.

More concerning is the narrative itself suggesting that women can’t handle casual sex – what they really want is a hair-stroking relationship – and so they’ll do something extreme to get a man to stay, whereupon he will turn violent; a hugely awkward generalisation for both women and men.

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Frustrating new play about sex and violence further complicated by a splintered structure