Humans love creating boundaries and placing labels. We are innately afraid to step away from the norm. Yet, modern society is at the forefront of cultivating change. It seeks to actively develop current culture, allowing and encouraging us all to become more accepting of otherness. The New Romantic is emblematic of such change. It circles the polyamorous relationship between Bruno (Edward Davis), Antonia (Milli Proust) and Erin (Eleanor Henderson). We watch as they attempt to navigate the frequently failed waters of open love.
A naked man playing the double bass greets me as I walk into the dark space of the Vaults. The beating-hearted prop is slowly integrated into the play and revealed to be the boyfriend, Bruno. My initial worry is that Davis may have trouble facing the wilful and brilliant characters being animated by Henderson and Proust, vanished at his ability to convey a strong comedic voice even whilst speaking with a taped-over mouth (the reason for his inability to speak is sensually revealed later on). Davis himself seems to have apprehension at his inclusion, a feeling solidified by his panicked eyes darting toward the audience.
The New Romantic is self-aware. Proust, Henderson and Davis find a balance, they are funny but serious, in love yet conflicted. They are a real relationship, regardless of the extra member. Though, I must admit, the girls remain front and centre.
The writing is fiercely sophisticated. Writer and Director Sadie Spencer creates an organic sense of reality whilst unapologetically connecting to the audience, provoking laughter and self-reflection throughout. She has an uncanny ability to explore raw and real human nature. Antonia dwells in the pitfall of wanting more for yourself in a relationship, that innate selfishness that we all feel is amplified on stage as she dares to enact her desires by connecting to the enticing lesbian Erin. Their attraction is obvious, the awkward chemistry flows through the play and becomes an undeniable reality. I wanted it for myself.
Once the relationship has been established, the opening scene is repeated in the middle of the play. But Spencer’s writing is of the ilk that repetition does not feel tiresome, and instead invigorates the scene with yet another layer of meaning. The comedic awkwardness becomes melancholic as the characters which we love fight for one another alongside their own happiness. It is a joy to witness such cleverness.
What is the true human capacity for love? Can romantic entanglement only stretch to encompass one person? Erin wishes not to be a “twisted Mary Poppins” whose only real use is to come into the relationship and fix it with some kinky bondage. Spencer creates very real and quickly established characters that will no doubt live on beyond the curtain call, they will remain within the realm of the living. The audience feels for, and will remember, Erin’s need to be a real third-party to Bruno and Antonia’s five-year relationship, Antonia’s struggle with the green-eyed monster, and Bruno’s desire to have two brilliant women, in different rooms and at different times if necessary.
The New Romantic played until 3 March. For more information and tickets, visit the VAULT Festival website.