Your name is Ruby. I meet you for the first time seconds before our first date begins. We are shown to our table. It’s small with no cutlery, glasses or napkins. It looks a bit like a table in an old fashioned bistro. In the centre is a microphone.
We’re given a menu with a choice of two drinks and five topics of conversation. They’re good questions. We start asking them to each other. I take a moment to think about each one, wrenching the answers out of me. You seem to know all the answers immediately as if you’ve been preparing for this your whole life. Soon I know about your past activism, about your family, how you feel about water (I feel the same). People think you’re cynical but actually it’s a protective layer because you care so deeply you feel like you could break (me too).
It turns we were getting ahead of ourselves. The questions are for later. We’ve eaten every course before the starter was even ordered. We sheepishly order one each and return to the menu to the attentive waiter. Our drinks arrive. A shot. Cranberry. Is there any alcohol in it? A placebo? Quite possibly, we agree.
I don’t tell you I’m writing this. It doesn’t come up in the conversation.
We are told to sit in silence. We have a staring competition. This seems logical. Nobody else is having a staring competition, it soon emerges. Everyone is watching us. I’m not surprised. We’re both pretty good at staring. I win though.
There are headphones. We are told to put these in and from here there will be no more off-piste behaviour. The headphones tell us what the other person might be thinking about us, what we might be thinking that we hope they don’t find out about us. They start feeding us lines to say. Do we commit to them and start playing a part or do we distance ourselves from them by filling our tone with detachment? You opt for the former, I the latter; I start to suspect you might be an actor at this point.
We watch various dating scenarios “played out” by architectural models on our table. They are presented as a kind of dating self-help in the tone of a GCSE language textbook. They want to demonstrate to us that we mustn’t look for perfection in each other. We must settle for something more realistic. I ignore this advice.
There are games now: parlour games, storytelling games, played with two other tables and facilitated by the waiter at break-neck speed, often stopping a round half way through because we are running out of time. One of these games is a staring competition. We win.
We’re told that the waiter himself was once a hopeful romantic, now on the brink of hopelessness and in the throes of desperation. We watch him through the window as he propositions an elderly lady only to get the response “Certainly not”. When a young girl in a headscarf agrees to have a three minute date with him, he bombards her with stories of the worst of all possible eventualities that might emerge from their union. We watch through the glass, hipster voyeurs, deeply aware of our own liberal discomfort as we are cast as the players in this scene of gentrification eating itself. The girl asks for help from teenage boys cycling past.
The date is over. We remove our headphones. I say it was nice to meet you. We agree about how uncomfortable we felt in that last bit. We both wonder about the company’s duty of the care to the passer by. We have a little hug. I make my way out into the cold Stratford night. And then, as I’m about to head to the station, I hear your voice. You’re standing in the door of Gerry’s bar. You’re calling my name. I turn around –
Binaural Dinner Date is on until 9 December 2017 at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Click here for more details.