Changing Sheets is a new two-hander romantic comedy about the complexities of modern relationships written by Harry Butler. Developed at The Playground Theatre and directed by its artistic director Anthony Biggs, the story takes us through a series of encounters between Patti (Máiréad Tyers) and Robert (Harry Butler) who meet over a series of Tinder dates. The script touches upon the loneliness, confusion and self-doubt that comes with hookups, where partners have mismatched expectations and boundaries. Through awkward run-ins, friendly banter and unassuming pillow talk, Patti and Robert navigate their feelings for each other. Interestingly, the design of the show calls for an empty stage with minimal movements and no props. The romantic action and intimacy referenced in the text are never mimed or enacted literally, with the performers relying on spoken word to embody their characters. This deliberate choice to perform intimacy bereft of action is what allows us to appreciate the larger theme of the show which is a commentary on communications in the digital age, making this a uniquely charming experience where we are listening just as much as we are seeing.
Tyers’ portrayal of Patti, a woman trying to overcome past romantic disappointments whilst still being open to love’s wonderful possibilities, is honest and heart-warming. Tyers’ is able to capture the character’s rebellion and resignation in the same breath, making us relate hard to Patti’s inner conflicts.
Butler crafts a lovable Robert, whose unassuming ways and simple yet enthusiastic approach to life provide for much of the laughs and makes us root for him all throughout. As a writer, Butler uses sharp-witted dialogue to convey the absurdity (and alarming honesty) of conversations shared in the dark, touching upon questions as serious as those of labels and expectation, but equally those as silly as pick-up lines and body counts. The eccentricities that come with internet hook-ups feature prominently in the text, as Patti and Robert try to adjust to the growing levels of intimacy between them whilst still being unaware of many factual details of the other’s life. Biggs’ direction allows us to really dig into the writing and what it hints at, without taking away our focus from the performers.
Given traditional blocking mechanisms, Bigss’ opened up each of the performers to us so even if there’s no action, we could still capture the shifts in breath and emotion. In such an unconventional staging choice, there is usually a risk of the performance losing itself in the words, but Biggs’ manages to maintain tight control over the rhythm and pace of the show, with sharply tuned delivery of dialogues and dynamic body language of the performers. The lack of eye contact between the two characters, which is broken only towards the end, not only builds tension as we anticipate the arrival of the big fallout but equally reminds us about the undeniable impact of looks shared (and deliberately hidden) between two lovers.
The play was staged in the round with performers moving about on a raised platform, with lamp covers of varying shapes and colours suspended on the ceiling above them. Each successive scene is played out in simple lighting with straightforward transitions, making us focus all our attention on the performers and their voices as the evening moves along, a refreshing departure from design-heavy production elements.
To summarize, Changing Sheets is a heart-warming and witty exploration of two young people caught on either side of the deviously complex modern dating game. Patti and Robert’s only refuge is having an honest conversation about who they are and what they really want from each other, which serves to remind us about what’s truly at the heart of the relationships we desire.
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 13th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★
Changing Sheets had its previews at The Playground Theatre and Cafe from 11th to 13th August and will now travel to the Dublin Fringe Festival from 16th to 19th September. Learn more and book tickets at https://www.fringefest.com/festival/whats-on/changing-the-sheets