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Review: Love, Question Mark - Tabard Theatre, Chiswick

Love, Question Mark
Tabard Theatre, 2 Bath Road, Chiswick W4 1LW

“Three years after the death of his wife, Michael gets a shock. Just a pair of legs seen whilst on a bus but enough to unlock long-buried desires. Suddenly he needs to know: What is love? Is it wrong to buy sex? Is marriage the best answer?

Catch up with this raw, racy, tragic comedy. Career around the emotional hairpin bends, stub your toe on the laughs, be shocked to the very core – just don’t miss it!

Writer-director Robert Gillespie explores the curious gap between what we say we want and what we actually do.”

Or so says the flier for this confusingly interesting play. What I found was a script that could benefit from tightening in places, a lead male character who’s difficult to warm to, and an outstandingly brilliant performance by Clare Cameron who steals the stage from the very second she appears on it.

Michael (Stuart Sessions) buys himself a mail order bride to satisfy his recently-unlocked desires and give him sex on demand but chooses Maria (Clare Cameron), who comes with her own agenda and doesn’t quite meet all his expectations. As she feels more and more comfortable in her new life, she gets stronger and the tables soon turn with her playing Michael in a sadomasochistic game of cat and mouse. As their highly dysfunctional relationship develops, deteriorates and regains its strength, so too did my emotional involvement with the story and its characters.

By the end of the play, we learn enough about each character to know they are the opposite of what one would perceive them to be. The previously monogamous Michael yearns to play the field, while the prostitute longs to settle down in a monogamous relationship.

As a character, Michael appears somewhat detached from himself, possibly related to the death of his wife after 38 years of marriage, which he confesses left him numb. Sessions plays this part brilliantly and thoroughly convincingly, but the character lacks likeability and it took a long time to really understand where he is coming from. I walked away still feeling he came across as desperate and I found it difficult to develop any real sense of empathy with him. I also feel his lecturing to the audience on the nature of love uses a few too many lengthy quotes to illustrate various points, but this is a minor inconvenience rather than a real distraction.

The sultry and streetwise Maria, on the other hand, I warmed to instantly. After being raped at the age of 7, she has being selling sex ever since, and she intersperses the story with tales of her background; the abuse, the clients and her biggest regret – losing the man she loved and her children in favour of a pay off. Despite some shocking tales of abuse, Maria doesn’t hate men; rather, she accepts that she “had something that men wanted” – namely that she would give them a good time, but not become a burden. “Men don’t pay you for sex. They pay you to go away afterwards.”

I left the Tabard feeling a little confused, but the play has grown on me over the journey home and certainly offers the audience plenty of food for thought on love, monogamy and whether bringing our fantasies into real life is really a good idea. It certainly challenges some of my own perceptions on these issues, and I would wager it will do the same to anyone who sees it.

Overall verdict: a little slow getting started, but excellently acted thought-provoking theatre.

Love, Question Mark plays at the Tabard Theatre until 23 November. Tickets £14 from www.tabardtheatre.co.uk

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