What does it mean to place value on something? We can value things emotionally and we can value them in a monetary sense, but what does it mean to extrapolate the financial worth of an object based on its history and the connotations it holds to one person?
In the dramatic context of being forced to do just this by a sudden change in financial circumstances, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale falls somewhere in between a lecture and a performance, as Hayley McGee attempts to ascertain the prices at which she should attempt to sell off gifts from her ex boyfriends.
Naturally, the first step is to ask every audience member, upon entrance, to vote on how much they would pay for each item. About twenty minutes after this, I had the moment of realisation that asking a room of strangers to assign value to your exes’ relinquished possessions is an absolute power move. However, this is only a fragment of the process. Over the course of around 90 minutes, McGee weaves a vastly complex web of factors that can or can’t, should or shouldn’t, be taken into account. As it grows, something about it takes on a slightly ritualistic element. Clearly, this is more than an autobiographical, self-deprecating joke; it’s also some kind of a healing process.
By the show’s final stretch, I became amazed by McGee’s stamina. Of course this applies physically- it’s a one hander that only gets more intense as it progresses, there’s no room for recovery or to breathe. However, it also applies emotionally. This is a bit of a marathon of a show, and it focuses solely on the heartbreaks and losses of the woman who stands by herself on the stage. It’s hard to ignore that there are often visible tears in her eyes, ones that she doesn’t appear to wish to acknowledge.
Personally, I adored how readily McGee’s work registers its own existence. She is, seemingly, utterly honest about the personal and financial cost of her production, even breaking down for us the costs and returns of the show. All too often the theatre industry feels deeply unwilling to acknowledge the personal sacrifices that are made, and it’s extremely refreshing to see one anecdotal example of this, uncomfortable though it must be to discuss.
McGee also speaks in depth about the process of deciding when her work-both on creating her formula of assigning value to objects and on the creation of the show itself- is done. Perhaps in any creative field, one of the hardest moments is the taking a step back, the decision that the work is finally finished. Again, for so many creatives, keeping a limit on perfectionism is a daily struggle and actually taking the time to discuss these feels very deeply valuable.
Crossing the often seemingly impossible to traverse divide between maths and theatre, The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is doing something very, very special. There seems to be no limit to the experience that McGee is willing to draw on, but at no point does it become self indulgence In fact, quite the opposite: instead, it feels at times like self-sacrifice for the good of something bigger.
The Ex Boyfriend Yard Sale is playing the Camden People’s theatre until 8 December 2018 . For more information and tickets, click here.