‘Strategic Love Play’ Has A Brand-New Perspective On Online Dating: Review

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strategic love play
Image credit: Rebecca Need-Menear

★★★★✰

Roundabout @ Summerhall suits Strategic Love Play. In the heat of mid-August, it is sweltering, and it does feel like the taproom of the pub. Not to mention that the in-the-round setting means that you feel as though you too are part of the first date of the ambiguously named Him and Her.

To walk into a play that is about the endless stream of swiping and first dates that is online dating and then to have the premise of finding “the one” in this manner ripped so entirely to shreds seemed counteractive. And yet that is what Miriam Battye does so well with Strategic Love Play: she makes us wonder why we are in this cycle at all, and presents another version, one where we stop lying about the mundane things and just be ourselves for once.

Letty Thomas plays a determined Her to perfection. Bored of the endless cycle of dating, she has decided exactly what it is she is looking for and is not waiting around to be flirted with or made to feel good. Instead, she tells it exactly like it is and calls everyone out when they lie to her. Thomas is aggressive, determined, and focussed in her performance, too angry to be called slick but too clean to be anything else. Archie Backhouse’s Him wants to be seen as the classic good guy, letting Her down easy when things aren’t clicking, and yet is confused when she begins to tell him to stop telling her she’s great. Backhouse swings between confused and strangely understanding with alacrity; the talent in these performers is not to be understated, drawn out by Battye’s sharp dialogue.

Rhys Jarman’s set is undoubtably the highlight of the show. Spinning round, so that even though the characters sit across from each other, you never miss a moment on either face, it creates an intimacy and a cosiness suited to the strangely tense atmosphere. And when Him starts to fill up a pint glass from the light fixture, the audience just has to laugh. Whilst this is only done once, it is almost too clever to be true.

The show ends, just as a first date would end: wondering what is next for Him and Her, wondering if or how their relationship will progress. There is no sense of closure, and in some ways this is the most satisfying thing about the play.

Strategic Love Play will be performed at Roundabout @ Summerhall 13-27 August (not 15, 22) at 5:20pm as part of Edinburgh Fringe.

Words by Jess Boot-Cowie


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