I did not know what I was expecting when I made my way to City Theatre on a sunny Friday evening, but If That’s What You Want… Then Yes by James Barber reached, and exceeded, all of my expectations.
Brought to life by Suffragette Theatre Company, this new student writing explores sexuality, love, relationships, and gender identity in an extremely poignant, playful, and meaningful way. Barber’s writing was genuine and believable, and under directors Julia Kennerley and Charlotte Aspden, a relationship was brought to life. Garnished with well-placed humour and charm, If That’s What You Want… Then Yes is mature and complex, offering a sophisticated reflection on a relationship between a man and woman, opening my eyes to the ugly in the good, and the beauty in the bad of each character.
James Barber created a dynamic that is imperfect and yet perfect for each other. Never shying away from the emotional struggles of the characters, Barber effectively showcases them on stage through conversations that never seem particularly heavy, and yet still do not betray their purpose of being meaningful. The dialogues bounce off each other and every single word that the characters say builds your understanding of themselves and the plot, nothing goes to waste. It reveals a little bit more about sex, love, life, and the self, it is the type of writing that helps you understand yourself a little bit more. It gives space for the audience to care about the characters. In the intimate City Theatre, Barber’s writing created a relationship between his characters and the audience. The audience gasped at each point of relationship development, like the characters were their close friends, and Barber’s writing must be applauded for such an achievement.
Amy Davis and James Roberts must be commended for their impressive performance as they bring Barber’s writing to life. Davis and Roberts offer us a raw, vulnerable performance as the characters learn, grow, and also hurt and struggle together. The chemistry between the two was off the charts, and intimacy coordinator Eliana Franks did an excellent job of setting an incredible level of comfort between the performers. Davis’ constant desperation and simultaneous struggle to warm up is palpable throughout the entire performance and paired with Roberts’ often nervous and humorous banter, the two create a dynamic that is tragically perfect, creating a powerful impact on the audience when their relationships take a wrong turn. It is an impeccably honest performance, as the performers laid it all bare on stage in front of us, almost with nothing to hide. Amy Davis and James Roberts’ emotive performances are definitely one of the aspects that carried If That’s What You Want… Then Yes to a completely other level.
Praise must also be given to Willa Rowan Hamilton for their set design. The beige-painted kitchen walls, furnished with a cosy sofa and stack of books, with comfortable mugs truly highlighted the play’s intimacy and the space in which the two characters are ‘stuck’ with each other. Technical Production Manager Trystan Thurtle is also commendable for the incredibly smooth cue execution, the music between the scenes effectively elevating the mood of the play.
If That’s What You Want… Then Yes is an honest and intimate evaluation of a relationship, executed skilfully and with care, allowing a heart-wrenching and equally honest and intimate experience while watching it. It is truly the new star of student writing in Durham Student Theatre.
Image credit: Suffragette Theatre Company