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Modern Romance
Etcetera Theatre
20th May 2015

★★☆☆☆

Nathaniel Fairnington as Isaac

Photography provided by Blue Song Productions

It's like that famous Buzzcocks song "Ever spunked up in a cup for someone you shouldn't have spunked up in a cup for", isn't it? Tale as old as time and all that. As you're probably reading this, Ireland is embroiled in one of the most important votes ever - a referendum on gay marriage that, if enough people do the right thing and vote Yes, will see the act be passed by public vote. A bit like the X Factor but important. And with more rainbows. What better a time, then, to discuss issues involving cohabiting gay couples and push for tolerance and happiness for all. It's such a shame, then, that Adam (Tom Powell) and Isaac (Nathaniel Fairnington) are so unlikeable and tedious.

In Mariko Primarolo's play, Adam's flattered to be asked to stick his guys in a cup so one of his asexual colleagues can have a baby. Isaac doesn't want that, apparently considering it cheating and his vast, actorly ego is hurt. What to do? Talk it out? Nope, because then there'd be no plot. Adam goes ahead with it anyway and we see all of their relationship play out before us - from meeting to breakdown - in a non-consecutive manner.

That's just one problem here. The jumping back and forth in their timeline has no effect on the unfolding drama whatsoever. There's no thematic arc that such a framework helps underpin, nor are emotions heightened or expectations defied, it's a parlour trick to disguise the fact that the story of these people isn't all that exciting. It also goes some way to highlight the fact that there's very little in the way of character progression, as from one scene to the next whether it be two days or two years in between, Powell and Fairnington play the characters largely the same. Sure, Isaac turns from a bitchy Narcissus into a psychotic Narcissus and Adam from "kid" to "man" - aka childishly defiant for plot convenience's sake.

For once, it's difficult to unpick who is entirely at fault. On the one hand, Primarolo's script is bloated with inconsequence and could be easily trimmed from the 90 minutes to a less tiresome 60. And she also mistakes the virgin birth for immaculate conception - or at least one of her characters does. (The immaculate conception being that Mary was conceived and born free from original sin, not that she gave birth to Jesus without sexytimes.) But the script frequently has little gags and quips that could land so much better than what the actors give them. "Creepy doesn't exist on the internet" was the only comment that really garnered a titter, yet there were more gems that could clearly have raised a smile from other actors, or if director Eve Carson had emphasised them.

In another example of the words and performance equally at fault was a discussion about asexuality. There's tons of gay issue plays, a burgeoning scene for trans concerns yet asexuality is a part of the non-heteronormative spectrum that rarely gets mentioned. So bloody well done to Primarolo with that. The only problem is, when Adam explains the subject, both the words and the actions are of someone reciting a Wikipedia article from memory, and it becomes a wholly throwaway plot point.

With a lack of dramatic beats and gut-punches, a stretched out plot and unsympathetic or downright idiotic characters, it's unlikely you'll fall in love with Modern Romance. But it tries to break a few taboos and for that it gets a hat-tip.

Modern Romance opened on 18th May and runs until 23rd May 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre. It will then transfer to Southwark Playhouse from 25th to 26th June 2015.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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