Walking into Haley McGee’s Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale, we are asked to put a value on the items on stage (a guitar, a bicycle and a typewriter amongst other things), write these values on slips of paper, and put them in the small letterboxes the objects are sitting on. What follows is an intimate, funny, and wonderfully miscellaneous exploration of the cost of relationships.
A debt of £10,000 inspired McGee to create the piece as she wondered how much she could earn by selling off the conglomeration of objects left her by various exes. She muses onstage about whether the experiences associated with them add or detract worth from the articles. Items previously owned by celebrities and sold for extortionate prices at auction serve as an example of how an object’s background affects its value. For example, she gashed her leg on a scalpel wedged between two bus seats on the way to being given a sapphire necklace. Does the physical pain associated with the necklace alter its perceived worth in any way? And where do the emotional experiences associated with the man who gave it to her fit in?
To find the answer she got in touch with mathematician Melanie Phillips to try and come up with a formula for seeing the cost of love reflected in cold hard cash. She breaks down each of her past eight relationships in scientific detail. Does the number of times she cried increase the value of the object and the relationship that forms the backdrop to it? She unravels a string that represents one long-distance liaison with a chronically commitment-phobic man. Pieces of red tape dangle from it, representing in various lengths how good the sex was each time they saw each other. To the audience, the string is little more than bric-a-brac, but with the story behind it, we get involved in the relationship’s history and it comes to represent a tumultuous four years.
McGee is an excellent storyteller and the show is brilliantly crafted, involving the narrative of its creation as an intrinsic part. She begins with a couple of initially meaningless objects and out of them flourishes a patchworked life story. Anna Reid’s set design complements the mood perfectly – taking full advantage of the nooks and crannies in The Camden People’s Theatre. McGee opens cupboards, tugs on strings and pulleys, and brings out a flipchart to accompany the narrative, adding a spontaneous impetus to each moment. She is buzzy, deadpan, engaging and witty at just the right moments – skilfully toying with the audience as she speaks.
In a madly climactic ending where she wraps herself up in sentences, thoughts, brown paper and bubble wrap, trying to account for the ramifications of each relationship to make the formula fit for everyone, the conclusion will leave your head in an enjoyable spin. It’s an interesting meditation on the need to put a price on everything, and on the overwhelming impossibility of doing so. McGee is a fantastic host on this tour through the tribulations of love and the unpredictable experience of living, and pulls off an adventurous production with verve.