After getting stellar reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe, Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me, the latest piece by theatre company Made In China, has transferred to London’s Soho Theatre for a 3 week run. It tells the story (in an intentionally fragmented, choppy way) of real life couple Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki, creators of said show, who go by their real names in the play. Whilst Jessica tells us the story on stage, Tim does the lights (and wrote the script), though they often break to talk between themselves, oscillating between throwing thorny barbs at one another and wistfully asking questions like “Why don’t you lie in my arms anymore when you wake up?” The lines between what’s in the play and what’s in reality are continually blurred, Jessica and Tim morphing into different characters throughout the 70 minute piece. The question becomes: who exactly are we watching? Who has the power here? Whoever does, in a relationship?
To me, the entire performance felt a little like an inside joke I wasn’t entirely part of, despite the efforts to include the audience. A play being complex is one thing, a hallmark of a great play, but Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me almost seemed to deliberately elude understanding, to wait just outside of my brain’s clutches – and for all the wrong reasons. For instance, it began with a rather bizarre, 10 minute long dance routine performed by Jessica, involving flailing limbs and uncoordinated spins (and finished with something similar). Afterwards, she said in her American drawl “I made that dance, especially for you guys,” (a line almost stranger than the routine itself) which was met with laughter. Was she mocking the many “avant-garde” theatre companies that parade routines like that as theatrically honest and true? Or was there something I was missing? Was the red lighting an indicator of her frustration with Tim, a symbol of the anger she feels at a relationship that is real, and thus far from perfect? I don’t know. This was a continuous feeling throughout – that I did not quite grasp what Cowbury and Latowicki were getting at, that it had gone over my head. Perhaps their aim was to confuse, to pose questions like these rather than provide answers. Relationships can be confusing, after all.
Other elements of the play functioned far more effectively. The power play between Jessica and Tim was excellently done. Who is really in control: the actress on stage, with the loud voice, attention grabbing dancing and sparkly black hot pants? Or is the quiet, stoic presence of the man pressing the lights, the playwright, more important? These questions could just as easily be ascribed to their (or any) relationship. Am I in control? Who is dominant here? Who is top dog? As they fight for dominance of the narrative, the question of who they really are becomes a confused one – we are caught between two unreliable narrators. Is Tim really the pedantic, cold, fussy boyfriend Jess portrays him as? When he speaks he just seems calm, relaxed. Similarly, is Jessica the overly-talkative, bossy, semi-alcoholic girlfriend who “wees too much”? Tim thinks so, but do we?
I left Soho Theatre feeling unsure, not just about the answer to this question, but to what I thought about the play as a whole. This new production is disorientating to say the least – it is not an easy watch – but, then again, no worthwhile play is.