Sunday, July 14

Strategic Love Play  – Soho Theatre

Two singletons walk into a bar, ready for (at least) a polite two drinks’ worth of getting-to-know-you chatter with a person they’ve never met outside the confines of their phone screen. What could go wrong?

The dating app-induced first date is a scene many of us are all too familiar with, and it sets up the premise of Miriam Battye’s Strategic Love Play, currently playing at Soho Theatre until 15th June.

We join the two characters — simply referred to as Woman (Letty Thomas) and Man (Archie Backhouse) — at their first meeting, and it’s abundantly clear from the get-go that they’re not on the same wavelength. While Man seems content exchanging bumbling pleasantries that avoid any risk of a genuinely enlightening conversation, Woman is bitingly honest and desperate to dig deeper.   

It’s a toe-curlingly accurate depiction of what it’s like for anyone who’s had the misfortune of riding the rickety merry-go-round of online dating, with an achingly relatable script that covers plenty of ground. From pretending to care about someone’s dull job to updating your friends while your date is off buying the next round, it’s a hilariously truthful window into the often-perilous world of dating. 

But, as Man tries to make an escape after his obligatory two pints, Woman has an idea: what if they just cut the “shit”, skip the awkward bit and dive into a relationship with two feet?

It’s a novel concept that leads to existential questions, romantic revelations, and a confusing cocktail of emotions for the pair, who are brought to life supremely by Thomas and Backhouse.

Both actors have an unmistakable knack for comedy, with the contrast between Man’s affable blandness and Woman’s relentless commitment to being truthful providing lots of laughs, but each gets ample opportunity to convey an endearing vulnerability too.

Katie Posner’s direction brings out the very best of the script, knowing when to dial up the  humour and when to strip it back so we see the raw emotions. Towards the end of the play, it can sometimes feel like the conversation is going round in familiar circles without offering extra insight into the characters, but Posner’s direction and the performances from Thomas and Backhouse keep Strategic Love Play consistently engaging and entertaining.

The often surreal use of the simple set, comprising a rotating table and chairs with a lamp, creates a somewhat fantastical ambience that suits the quirky charm of the play nicely.

Strategic Love Play is a punchy, fearless exposé of what it’s like to date today, and it certainly made me think — not least because I was, in a remarkably ironic stroke of accidental planning, going on a Hinge date straight after.

Playing until 15th June.

Reviewer: Olivia Cox

Reviewed: 29th May 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.