Fittingly for the times we’re living in, Amy Trigg’s lead character Juno spends most of Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me wearing a mask. No matter what she says, there’s a beaming smile plastered on her face, even when she (and the audience) knows there’s a crumbling pain deep within. Kicking off a new season at the Kiln Theatre, Trigg’s award-winning debut play (The Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020) earns its plaudits, even if the 90 minute run-time does seem a bit too long.
The story is classic, the tale of every teenager/twenty-something – going to parties, awkward sex, kisses with fit boys and vomiting Domino’s pizza and vodka into a toilet. We’ve all been there, right? Except Juno has an extra layer of life experience. She was born with spina bifida, requiring her to use a wheelchair for most of her adult life.
Throughout this one-woman barrage of comedy, we learn that while many people wish/pray/hope on Juno’s behalf for her to magically shake off her disability – to no longer be, as Trigg heartbreakingly puts it, ‘broken’ – Juno herself has very different wishes. She’s battling her own inner demons, blocking any attempts by clouds to dim her natural, gorgeous light. Nevertheless, in doing so, she finds she’s been hiding herself from the people closest to her.
Trigg is wonderfully charming in the lead role, her broad smile and infectious energy simply begging the audience to follow her on this story, to laugh with her, to find positivity in every single word she says; to find Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me. As both writer and performer, she knows intricately the game she’s playing with the audience, barrelling from outright comedy to deep, painful sadness often within the same sentence. And yet, through it all, that obstinate smile remains. Expert direction from Charlotte Bennett, along with Trigg’s assured performance, give the audience the chance to see all the things that Juno isn’t saying, and all the truths she’s struggling to face. It’s all the more powerful for that.
Bennett’s work as director is beautifully understated, eschewing anything that detracts from the powerful performance of her protagonist – Juno spends almost the entire play inside a large DIY wooden box, sporadically covered with tin foil for reasons that become clear during the play. It’s a lovely, simple design by Jean Chan, one that Bennett uses well to metaphorically depict Juno’s isolation.
The simplicity works especially well because Bennett trusts writer/performer Amy Trigg. How can you tell? Watch how Trigg commands both the stage and the audience from the moment she appears, and how infrequently our attention is taken from her. That’s the mark of a trusting, talented director, who knows that this story belongs to Trigg and gives her all the playing space she needs.
That’s not to say Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me is perfect – at 90 minutes without an interval, it does have moments of dragging its feet. Once we’ve established that Juno’s life comes with its challenges, the play returns frequently to the well of mundanity – bus stop kisses and grotesque Tinder messages, for example – with the familiar twist from the perspective of a disabled character. It’s insightful, but once the audience has learned the formula, it’s difficult to recapture the magic and comedy of the earlier sections. The same goes for the more dramatic material later on; it’s wonderfully heartfelt and beautifully delivered, but goes on just long enough for the audience’s interest to wane.
But honestly, if the main quibble is that I had too much of a good thing, then I can’t begrudge the play too much for that. This play is a joyous, powerful piece that has moments of comedy, tragedy and both combined, but wisely concentrates more on the journey than the destination. Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me is a worthy show to reopen the Kiln Theatre after fourteen months(!) of difficulty, and one I would implore everyone to see, to support both a wonderful show and an illuminating venue.
Reasons You Should(n’t) Love Me is at Kiln Theatre until 12th June 2021.