How would you describe Strategic Love Play?
It’s one scene, one first date, two strangers who met on their phones, now in a room with no guidance. And we’re off. It’s play with absolutely no stakes at all, because it’s a first date, so they can just piss off at any time. They don’t owe each other anything, they’re not allowed to ask anything of each other yet.
They don’t care about each other at all. In fact, this is just something that they have to go through, on the off chance it works out. It’s highly unlikely that it will work out. And there’s very little they can really do about it, other than being properly washed and normal enough.
But actually, if you stare at it, it’s very high stakes. You can break someone and get yourself broken. The experience can leave you completely bewildered and cored, and embarrassed that you allowed it to. It’s an uncomfortable tightrope walk, between something that you’re supposed be casual about, and something that can snap that last thread of dignity you have.
It’s about two people who have found themselves, for very different reasons, completely stuck in a dating loop. Always at another table, with another pint, and another stranger, no resulting love, no resulting calm, no way out. Maybe they need each other, to get out.
It’s maybe the most romantic thing I’ve ever written.
Can you discuss the development process, what inspired you to write this type of love story?
It is pretty unoriginal to write about love. However I have that tragic arrogant feeling that it has been uniquely more atrocious for me than for anyone else. I think a lot of people feel like that. I think that might be what dating feels like. I think that’s why I wanted to write about it, to work out why it is that I have felt so hard done by, and where on earth I got the wild idea it was supposed to be gorgeous and easy. Why should it be?
I think when I was young, I understood that lovers were fought for. I assumed I would be fought for, and I would fight for someone. But life arrived, and I found, to my surprise, dating lacks quite a lot of fight. I think this play started cos I wanted to see what happened if someone actually fought for something in this particular context.
As a writer, I am always interested in language games. I’m interested in the ways we lie to each other, the ways we fail to articulate ourselves, the ways we falsely present ourselves, the ways we bullshit without even really thinking about it. The realm of dating and quote unquote love is a fascinating place to look at this. We are trying to package a gorgeous version of ourselves, we are also trying to not try, to present ambivalence.
How do you feel dating has changed since the introduction of dating apps?
I think I wrote the play, to try and work this out.
I wonder if it’s overextended us a bit. I think apps provided an incredibly effective solution to something that is genuinely painfully difficult. So they made that initial painful part easier. No question there. But I wonder if, maybe, it isn’t supposed to be painless.
I think there are maybe some benefits to it being harder to get someone to take note of you, to try you out, to date you. And some benefits to being rejected, to properly bear yourself a bit, arse out a bit, know you tried, and deal with it. Perhaps if we front loaded the effort, everyone would try a little harder, and feel a little tried for. But of course, I have no idea.
The only thing I do know is that we’re all a bit more mortified than we used to be. There’s absolutely no way to be cool and beguiling if you’ve put your face in everyone’s phone and asked them to want you. And given them the brief idea that it’s totally their choice. You are totally available for their choosing.
And, of course, they are totally available for yours. It’s an illusion, but it’s a fucking powerful one. Maybe.
What is your number one tip for anyone heading out on a first date?
How is the cast getting on with rehearsals/the production?
The team are top tier people. I have the most gorgeous cast. I worked with Letty (Thomas) on Scenes with girls which was my last major play, and I love what she does on stage. She is genuinely original, hilarious and stunningly powerful. And Archie (Backhouse) was new to me but is completely undeniable, he’s a proper revelation. I am delighted that they are playing these parts. And I love Katie (Posner), her work and her passion and she, along with the excellent Dramaturg and writer Gill Greer have pulled this play out of me with their enthusiasm for it, and their very deep kindness to me.
There is no substitute for having great people telling you your work is something they want to work on, your weird, ungainly little thoughts are legitimate. This play, like everything I write, is personal to me. I have sometimes found talking about this subject matter is met with platitudes, sometimes hideous pity, pointless advice, and not much interrogation. But I made a play out of it. So that’s cool. I feel like I’ve thrown the thoughts in the air, and found what I hope to be true, and not bullshit.
What are you most looking forward to bringing this show to the Fringe and on tour around the UK?
I love the Fringe, I go every year as a punter. I haven’t had a show on there in a decade. I am a completely different person, and I’m so much braver than I was, and I’ve done big tv shows, and I’ve had my work ripped apart and got over it, but nothing is really more intimidating than the Fringe to me. It’s just, a lot of people, who care a lot about theatre, sitting in your show, and then moving onto the next. I want to astound people, reach out and grab their attention before they go on to the next thing.
Also I’ve wanted to have my play on at the Soho for genuinely years. That’s terrifying too. Also, as a Northerner, so any chance to take my stuff out of the capital is delightful to me.