Tristan Bates Theatre, London – until 14 April 2018
The dating landscape is often treacherous, but for cishet women in their 20s, it is sometimes downright dangerous. Though the #MeToo movement is drawing increasing attention to women’s experiences at the hands of men, it’s important to convey just how universal these experiences are. Michelle Barnette’s debut play does that through the adventures of B, a young woman balancing work, life and plenty of casual sex.
Barnette’s script is certain to resonate with any female-identifying person who has ever dated men. B is a universal young woman – or as universal as a white, middle-class, liberal woman with a home counties accent living in London can be. She’s got a good job, a nice flat and a smartphone fully loaded with dating apps. Her experiences with two men, A and C, take place exclusively in her bedroom, though she may or may not want something more serious.
Though different from each other, both men are very much distinctive types and her dynamic with each of them is suitably contrasted. But ultimately, they both represent some of the worst aspects of the patriarchy and their actions towards B are infuriating and immediately recognisable. It’s basically identical to the feeling that comes from reading ‘Cat Person’.
Though B’s, fragmented, non-linear experiences are exquisitely relatable, the characters are archetypes that serve to distance the audience from these very real circumstances rather than create a distinct persona with whom they can connect. There are moments of uncomfortable acting, and the chemistry between B and A isn’t convincing. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, or rather, moments where men in the audience find humour where women distinctly don’t. In these particularly gendered instances, archetypes don’t support male empathy – but if Barnette does not have didactic aims, this doesn’t really matter.
Fin Redshaw’s set and Ben Jacobs’ lighting work together to emphasise the tangled web of modern dating and casual sex. Though simple, the black and white bed with intertwined red rope lighting that snakes up the headboard is a striking visual representation of how our lives so easily tangle with others.
The script nails the experiences of modern dating and casual sex from a female perspective, but in this case it makes a statement rather than initiate a dialogue – though this certainly isn’t a problem as these perspectives deserve platforming, more nuance would make for a more sophisticated commentary.