Falling in Love with Theatre Companies: A Love Letter to Made in China

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I’ve just had an argument with my boyfriend over the phone. Underneath our conversation the strains of last week’s arguments throbbed with anger and bubbled to the surface. We’re frustrated. At ourselves, at each other, at the world and everything and everyone that is stopping us from being us. I don’t want to argue and yet here we are, arguing. Picking holes in our tense relationship; we’re just damn frustrated. We’re exhausted from the stretched tension of pretending that everything is alright. We call off, we’ll chat later.

I’m on my way to the theatre and I realise that I’m about to see a show that is about relationships. Not only that, it is a show that has been made by a couple, stars the couple and makes the most from their arguments. I’m about to witness my phone conversation, all its glorious exasperated tension, in a theatre show. I literally couldn’t think of anything worse right now.

Our relationship started in May 2011. We were young things, you know, the sort of still fresh out of university but a few years down the line and starting to get somewhere sort of young. She was into milk and exercise bikes and I thought that was cool. In fact, she was unlike anyone I’d met before. Her American tones were thick but alluring, her thighs were strong enough to power a bike for fifty minutes solid and her mouth was big enough for a packet of biscuits. She was cool. She was also committed to some other guy, which is cool. He’s a writer and he’s got this beard and skinny arms but he’s alright, but I’m not into threesomes.

To save the confusion I’m talking about Made In China, the performance/writing duo Jessica Latowicki and Tim Cowbury. Their new show, Tonight I’m Going to be the New Me? exposes their relationship in all their gritty, frustrating, pull apart and stick’em on the stage kind of way. It is everything I find frustrating with how relationships play out. The petty arguments, the questioning of the everyday habits, the desperate wrangling of power control played out in suspended time. Ah, relationships, they’re bloody difficult things aren’t they?

The thing is, I’m not joking when I say I started a relationship with Made In China back in 2011. Stationary Excess at Mayfest was my first dose of love and I’ve gone back year-on-year, lapping up the new development in our relationship with anticipation. They taught me about capitalism whilst sitting on the roof of the National Theatre, and they desperately tried to make me happy, offering flour bombs and ice lollies to brighten my day. The thing is, no matter how far I stray with new relationships and adventures, from snuggled kisses with the latest fledgling maker, to long, passionate, embracing groupies by those Forced Ents love birds, I always return. It doesn’t matter that I’m unfaithful, it matters that I turn up and flash a smile, falling into the embrace of Tim’s words and Jess’ dancing. They’re my drug, my aphrodisiac.

Just like my own relationship my love for Made In China gets frayed and strained and sometimes I just want to shout at them and ask, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?”. Following a theatre company over a number of years does that to you. In moments of complete ecstasy I’ve wanted the world to be paused and lived in as Kneehigh Theatre tell stories to me but sometimes, just sometimes they are the biggest disappointment. Just like I’ve adored Sleepwalk Collective since their first show at the White Bear Theatre, I know I’m going to hit a stumbling block and question why I spend my time curled up in their dark worlds. When you really care about work – about art – you enter a relationship that continually tests you. Its never stops testing and you learn to embrace that for all its uncertainty.

It doesn’t matter that I may not have found Tonight I’m Going to be the New Me? as rewarding as their other work. It doesn’t matter that it felt safe and contained. It matters that I’m in it for the long ride. That’s what relationships are for, the good, the bad, the… yeah, you get me. Bloody love, its a tricky bastard.