“Oh it’s online? It’s an online thing? You should’ve said…”
Part of Watford Palace Theatre’s Ideal World Season, Gary Owen’s new play Perfect Match looks at the role that the internet has to play in our relationships – whether forming new ones through cast-iron guaranteed dating services or shaking up long-existing partnerships that may or may not have gone stale. Anna and Joe have been together for nine years and Lorna and Aaron six, but when a computer algorithm declares Anna and Aaron to be perfect soulmates, they meet up for a dirty sojourn in Stevenage, declare the connection is indeed real and decide to ditch their other halves and elope to Gretna Green.
Kelly Hotten’s Anna is a wonderful combination of sweetness and steel – caringly concerned that no-one is too upset but absolutely determined to get her own way. And Tom Berish is often hilarious as the dumbly delicious Aaron, most amusing in his blokish behaviour. But dumping someone else for your perfect match isn’t quite as easy as all that and the pair, in their vastly different ways have to extricate themselves from the lives of the people with whom they have spent years and Joe and Lorna are not about to make it easy for them. Eva Jane Willis’ professional debut is a vivid delight as the brutally blunt Lorna and Ken Nwosu’s Joe quietly captures the sympathetic centre of the story.
For his is the mundane reality that can’t compete with the ideal world, not even with money as everything changes. Owen makes several suggestions about the way technology has altered the way we interact with the world – how people will casually compose a text message whilst in a conversation with someone, someone else is learning meditation techniques via mp3s, and at the heart of the play is the gospel seriousness with which people take what they read online. There’s something moving yet disturbing about the way in which these people crave certainty in a fast-changing world, even as their very actions are causing yet more turmoil.
But it is also a very funny play. Gags are fired out at all levels about topics as diverse as Aztecs and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Hugo Bolton provides two wryly-observed cameos as service personnel and director Brigid Lamour encourages a bold physicality from all four leads as they thrash out whether it is better to stay with the one you’re with or chase after something that might just be perfect. It all dovetails into something unexpectedly sweet as a couple of contrivances kick in to give a neat ending but overall this is a sprightly piece of comic writing that sets up the season well.