Her Not Him - A Very Modern Rom-Com
Her Not Him speaks to deep-set issues surrounding fidelity, age, gender, sexuality and, ultimately, acceptance. From ‘Lughnacy Productions’, a recently formed, female-led theatre group, this play epitomises the company’s ‘female and LGBTQ focus’. Her Not Him balances humour with some touching moments of resonating honesty.
In the lead role, Orla Sanders plays Bea, a shut-off, sarcastic and deeply troubled woman who is age-conscious and still searching for something, or someone, else. Sanders brings palpable emotion to the role, excelling in a silent sequence of reflection “the morning after”. Alongside Bea, her girlfriend Ellie is played vivaciously by Leah Kirby. Kirby’s role really comes into its own in the latter half of the play, when she embraces her youthful predisposition for comedy. And then there is Jemima, an intriguing party-crasher who captures Bea’s attention. Played by John James, Jemima is confident, bold and outspoken; afforded several belting lines to deliver, James aptly plays up to transvestite sassiness, whilst still retaining sympathetic awareness of underlying sentiment.
The storyline is clear enough, but the associated struggles are anything but simple. This is an interrogation of what it means to fall for a person, irrespective of sexuality.
Each scene stands alone as a well-crafted moment of dialogue and humour, of which writer Joanne Fitzgerald should be proud. Yet, unfortunately, the production as a whole lacks some sense of cohesion. In the pursuit of continuity, scenes are glued together with slow motion movement sequences that feel somewhat gratuitous (not least as the furniture is flown around the stage and, most often, placed back close to its original position). I like the metaphorical value of two large screens wheeling past each other, in a transformative capacity, revealing someone new from behind; I only wish that these props had been used to transform the space more.
Scene changes also give rise to a recurring storytelling motif: ballroom dancing to mark the progression of one relationship into another. Again, a poetic means of developing the story; but unfortunately this dancing stands at odds with the dry wit and sarcasm of the dialogue which it is sandwiched between. Physicalising the unspoken seems to come slightly at the expense of maintaining characterisation.
Like each scene, each performance is meritorious and balanced. However, at times, the chemistry between characters can feel a little stunted. Admittedly first-dates and break-up situations are performed as intentionally awkward, but the actors seem to bounce off of each other much better in scenes of conflict than scenes of romantic intimacy. An unexpected highlight of the piece comes in a ‘Waterstones’, between Ellie and Jemima (whilst 'unmasked' as James), where neuroses are allowed to flow freely and, as such, comedy blossoms. From here, the story glides into a scene involving all three of the characters: therein, Bea's intensity and depression is played off against the drunken silliness of her younger counterparts and the chemistry on set is at an all-time high. The only shame is that it has to end there.
Her Not Him is a well-written commentary on human emotions and the non-existence of ‘normal’. The play is best in its raw, instinctive moments: when silence is embraced, or when referential humour and sarcastic remarks seem to come naturally. The cast settle into the comfort of their roles, giving a sense of relief and acceptance as the play comes to rather an abrupt end. For me, the addition of one too many theatrical techniques tries to push this short piece beyond its own capabilities. In just seventy minutes, this is a snapshot view of human relationships and, as such, the snapshot scenes sing out over and above any chronological direction.
Catch this very modern rom-com at Theatre 503. With a limited run, 30th Jan- 3rd Feb, be sure to grab your tickets at: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/her-not-him/#tickets
Title image sourced via Theatre503