You Me Tomorrow

Oliver Walton
The 1121 Collective
PUSH festival at HOME, Manchester

Steph Reynolds and Kris Overend in You Me Tomorrow by Oliver Walton Credit: The 1121 Collective
George Miaris and Emma Young in You Me Tomorrow by Oliver Walton Credit: The 1121 Collective

I was talking with some friends recently about a psychological habit of revising and rethinking decisions until time pressures make it impossible not to act, at which point decisiveness finally kicks in. The resulting judgement may not be any worse or better than the earlier attempts at solving the problem, but somehow the exquisite pressure of the deadline is the only thing, for some of us, that allows us to make that call.

You Me Tomorrow, by recently-formed (and youthful) Manchester theatre collective 1121, immediately made me think back to that conversation. It begins with a couple putting the finishing touches to a table setting for the imminent arrival of their dinner guest. The man is anxious, constantly tweaking the cutlery, rethinking the crockery, and second-guessing the choice of background music: the guest is clearly important to him.

At the same time, both characters are distracted by the news they’re half-watching on their laptop: a court judgement is awaited, a policeman has beaten up, or been beaten up by, or possibly shot, a child. We’re not quite sure, and neither are the characters. But it seems like we’re in the here and now, more or less, and cars throughout the city are burning while the couple fuss over what drinks to serve.

This inability to commit to a firm choice—the constant desire to rethink and replan until time is up—is one of the thematic and structural underpinnings of an intriguing piece of new writing by Oliver Walton.

Developing from a fairly trad (albeit intriguing) setup and a tissue of story elements, the play sees things start to go wrong for the couple. The male character’s uncertainty infects first his partner, then the story and theatrical form of the piece itself.

To say too much more would be to spoil the main fascination of this short but well-crafted play. It reminded me of one of Caryl Churchill’s wonderful and lesser-known plays, Traps, in its tricks and slips with time. You Me Tomorrow is more slight, not as artfully obscure, not as understated, but it attacks narrative and domestic certainties in similar ways.

The direction by Anthony Steel is clear-sighted and the ending satisfyingly builds to a crescendo: the pulse and throb of Jack Barton’s sound design swells insidiously. The production’s coda feels slightly in need of further work, and there were moments at the beginning where the acting and staging was distinctly underpowered, but the main pairing of Steph Reynolds and Kris Overend ultimately rise to the challenge of what must be devious text to keep clear in one’s mind.

In a fiendishly escalating piece of writing, the couple start by bickering fondly about precisely where they first met, who asked for whose number, which song was playing at the time. In doing so, they agree on story elements to tell the guest—who may or may not be this man’s boss—with the repeated proviso that this is the truth "for current purposes".

Somewhat inevitably, I was also drawn to thinking of the remarkable rhetorics and propaganda already (or rather still) emerging from now-President Trump’s press team. On the very day that we heard doublespeak decrees about "alternative facts" shrieked from official representatives of the White House, it was remarkable that this new piece of theatre from a fresh young company painted for us so clearly the ease with which histories can be rewritten, and the muddied waters which make it so difficult to verify the evidence of our own eyes and experience.

Reviewer: Mark Love-Smith

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