Strategic Love Play
Rating: ★★★ ½
Venue: Soho Theatre, London
Cast: Archie Backhouse and Letty Thomas 

So they’ve both swiped right. Now they’re meeting for the first time. Facing each other. As if that’s a normal thing to do.

But she’s being uncomfortable, and he’s a total bore. The vibe is horrific and the banter is even worse. But something is keeping them in their seats. Something is making them stay.

With acid wit, Miriam Battye’s new play takes a scalpel to modern romance.

Strategic Love Play is a simple story with slick execution, getting straight to the heart of the difficulties of modern dating. The awkwardness of a first date is evident from the get go, with Archie Backhouse (‘Man’) and Letty Thomas (‘Woman’) meeting in a pub, where things quickly get off on the wrong foot from the very first pint. 

An immediate clash of personalities becomes apparent, with Man a lot more laid back and casual compared to Woman’s abrupt and sometimes confrontational nature. She is exasperated, keen to skip the niceties and get straight to the business of a relationship, doing things like arguing about the mundane little issues of everyday life. He is a more relaxed, apologetic character, unsure how to respond to Woman’s probing questioning. 

As the two characters grapple with their own experiences of dating, Woman gets repeatedly frustrated as she tries to make Man confess he is, in fact, not attracted to her at all, given his aloof and often awkward demeanour. Her character seemed more well-developed than his, with more nuance present between her hardened exterior and occasional moments of sensitivity, whereas Man seemed more one-dimensional at times. 

The play was quite unrealistic in parts, which for me was part of its charm as much as its sometimes confused nature. There were moments where I was sure one of them would walk away from the date, only to find them having another pint minutes later, compelled to stay due to their genuine chemistry despite their bickering and seeming incompatibility. 

Subtle lighting cues and a minimalistic set design really worked well with this piece, leaving all eyes on the date and enhancing the dramatic effect at certain moments. The play makes an interesting point about the cynicism surrounding repetitive modern dating - its complexities, our desire to hide our vulnerabilities, and ultimately our need for stability and love. Witty throughout, with some laugh-out-loud lines, this play has a lot of potential - I could even see value in another act, as it all comes to quite an abrupt end, probably like a lot of first dates! 

You can book tickets to see Strategic Love Play at the Soho Theatre, here.

Review by Vickie

**photo credit: Pamela Raith**

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