Some of my friends that have been in relationships for a while sometimes joke that they wouldn’t know what to do if they were to suddenly find themselves single again. In Strategic Love Play on at the Roundabout in Summerhall, our two characters have no such excuse to be as hopeless as they are.
Written by Miriam Battye, the story follows Her and Him as they embark on yet another date from the apps. From the outset, it’s clear to see that Her is on a warpath, making sarcastically cutting remarks at every chance given, while Him is initially trying his best to be so boring that you wonder if Her remarks are actually asides to the audience, or if he doesn’t care about the outcome, since there’s always another date at his fingertips. The night develops as Her’s self-hate, frustration, and existential dread is laid bare. Taken aback and yet compelled to stay, Him and Her try their best to make it work and be honest with each other.
Both actors hold their own. Letty Thomas as Her plays an incredibly obnoxious character with such charm and sensitivity, the audience can understand Him’s intrigue and compulsion to stay despite the hostile environment. Archie Backhouse as Him plays an “everyman” struggling for agency, staying in previous relationships while unhappy, hurting a friendship by turning to drink to let his true feelings out. Him’s complexity grows throughout the play, which is satisfying to watch.
The play tackles a lot of ground, from the existential feeling of being single, through the worry received from friends and family, to the frustration of constantly feeling inadequate. However, the ideas explored feel a little underdeveloped at points. For instance, the monologue after the characters kiss feels like a step backwards, where nothing new is offered up. The play is strongest when it is exploring the characters’ past and developing the relationship between them; it feels that a few more twists and turns in these areas would ensure it is gripping at all times.
Set over the course of an evening, this is a charming and witty, if somewhat pessimistic, view on modern dating and the pressures of 20-somethings to settle down, with the key word being ‘settle.’