Although the play has some strong male characters I missed seeing any complex female leads to make up the balance.
Three writers merged their short plays, commissioned by Bridge Arts, to create Love in the 21st Century, a comic one hour take on the perils of internet dating in a humdrum busy city like London, although it might as well be a modern day Vienna, and which could be taken as a play on Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.
We follow three men, Michael [George Vafakis] Adam [Tom Scurr] and Alex [Jesse Rutherford], as they search for love with the help of an online dating agency, presided over by Dr Wrinkler [Liam Thomas] whose dress sense and Viennese manner make him seem like a Victorian amateur physician where Schnitzler and an erotic Freud meet. In fact Dr Wrinkler is more pseudo psychiatrist than he is match maker, obsessed as he is with analyzing and comparing individual’s facts, figures and data, rather than allowing real love to follow its natural unseeing course [for Wrinkler ‘Truth is the only algorithm’]. As a result, what we get is a series of blind dates the unfortunate men go on in their attempt to find the algorithm one, only for pre conceptions and assumptions by their matches to get in the way- Dr Wrinkler has not accounted for that incalculable and mysterious entity called the human soul. There’s an interesting conversation between Alex and disabled Mel [Maya Saroya] about the nature of disability and its attractions [expostulating the idea that having a relationship or sexual congress with anyone disabled, means that there has to be real communication first], Adam finds himself caught in the clutches of cross dressing and increasingly sexual Dr Wrinkler, as he attempts to go out with Zoe [Leanne Johnson] which, as she is not his algorithm match, Wrinkler tries to prevent, whilst Michael struggles to forgive Ellie [Suzy Gill] for concealing her single mother status from him on their first date.
For anyone watching, the conceit is pretty obvious and it might have been better to allow the writers to explore their more complicated ideas in full length plays rather than these shortened versions, although the mash up does create a satirical rom com that’s a modern pale of a Schnitzler couples farce- complete with depression, talk of suicide and break down. The production also demands a bigger stage to accommodate the large cast, although the lack of space does serve as an appropriate metaphor for an overcrowded and cramped city.
There are some nice performances, and amongst them George Vafakis is an energetic and confused Michael of tragic ilk, Tom Scurr as Adam is resplendent as your average male city worker for whom the scales gradually start to drop off, the evils of Dr Wrinkler slowly dawning on him, and Jesse Rutherford as Alex, gives a brooding and studied portrayal of a man caught in the painful throes of depression.
But although the play has some strong male characters I missed seeing any complex female leads to make up the balance. The clash in styles does not help; Mel and Ellie are more naturalistic and contrast a bit too harshly with the comedy of the other female leads. However, the play does offer some truisms on the reality of Internet dating and the quest to find love. And as Schnitzler said, the only things worth writing about are love, sex and death, and Love in the 21st Century is a short modern classless attempt and play on of at least some of that.
Love in the 21st Century plays at The Hen & Chickens Theatre until Saturday 3rd
Directors: Gill King & Kate McGregor
Writers: Nathan Brooker, Laurence Peacock & Milly Thomas
Producer: Bridge Arts
Box Office: 020 7354 8246
website : www.unrestrictedview.co.uk