If you’ve ever logged on to look for love you might find this chronicle of the pitfalls of online dating all too familiar. Written by old college friends Mike Charlesworth and John Muirhead about two old college friends, Baggage is the culmination of their research and personal experiences of dating disasters in the era of Match.com and Guardian Soulmates.
Overconfident spiv James, played with macho swagger and bravado by Charlie De’Ath, brags of his cyber-conquests to his oldest mate, sensitive history teacher Adam (Richard Mylan). James convinces the reluctant Adam to take the plunge into the daunting, high-octane world of online dating: “The internet – where your average bloke can be something amazing.”
Adam creates a profile and soon find himself hooked, but unfulfilled. After a series of online flings and flirtations, and a hilarious encounter with Suzanne Shaw’s facile fashionista Geraldine, he flees to Peru. When Adam’s baggage goes missing at the airport, one chance meeting with a fellow thwarted traveller (Nicola Stapleton) may hold greater significance than a hundred clicks of the ‘like’ button on PlentyofFish.co.uk.
Baggage is skilfully structured, with clever chronological shifts keeping the audience guessing right up to a final plot twist that lands likes a smack in the chops. Audrey Cooke’s direction is slick and keeps things moving, peppered with projections of facts and statistics that help chart the “fundamental change in relationships brought about by technology”.
A changing digital backdrop makes for some stylish scene changes while complementing the central theme of the play, with Adam Wiltshire’s designs invoking effectively the strip-lit desolation of the airport arrivals lounge, the swishy pretension of a Primrose Hill wine bar and the dizzying heights of Machu Picchu. There’s music too: a bevy of Britpop from Bowie to Blur blasts out between scenes, contributing to the quintessentially British feel of the piece.
On a side note, a huge amount of time and passion has been invested in the Arts theatre since 2010 by Executive Director Mig Kimpton, and it shows. The pleasant bar/café area alone is well worth a visit, and with the promise of more quality new writing in the offing, the Arts is a venue well worth a second date.