Love is a white wedding dress reflecting the beams of summer sunlight back into the Pacific ripples. Love is a ten-course taster menu twinkling with Michelin stars. Love is another heart-shaped Pandora charm to dangle on your dainty wrist.
Or, love is the sticky stains left by the manuka honey you bought me when my throat closed shut from tonsillitis. Love is the odd-shaped knitwear I stole to wear each morning after you left for work. Love is always insisting on carrying ridiculously heavy bags because you know I have a bad back.
How to Die of a Broken Heart by Femi Martin starts off looking for a love that produces music and takes you back to sparse apartments with no chairs. It ends, having forced its way though a blocked oesophageal sphincter, with a love that gives you a sip of water after each mouthful to make sure the food doesn’t come back up again.
Programmed as part of the Southbank centre’s Festival of Love, the sudden change from MySpace boyfriends to tubes up noses, tubes down throats, tubes in stomachs, is disconcerting. At first I thought: but hang on, aren’t we meant to be talking about love? Especially because Martin is good at talking about that first kind of love. Her facial expressions in response to incoherent demands from ex-boyfriends and her dissection of televised shows about love are hilarious. We comfortably snuggle down into giggling at profile pics and the marital status of doctors until, quite suddenly, the palpitations get louder, solider, more real. “Be still my beating heart!” becomes an actual plea to unruly heart-thumps and Martin forces our heads to ground level to remember her curled in the foetal position, saliva seeping over tongue.
This bump back to earth and bodily dysfunction may appear to jar with a festival about the soaring abstract emotion of love. Yet, as Martin discusses, what we call love can also be explained by endorphins, serotonin and neurological responses. Likewise heartbreak as its own set of chemical-induced traumas. The short show, delivered in understated spoken word poetry, sends us towards a love that is messily human. We are not bathing Aphrodites with festivals dedicated to us, we are sometimes cradlers of toilets in need of someone to hold our hair back.
Martin’s story goes in all the directions it isn’t supposed to go. It stacks up empty take-away cartons, forces the listener into crucifying work conversations and provides details on digestive systems. It is not, in short, the way a love story is meant to be. And that is why, when the happy ending arrives, it really is happy.
For more information on Femi Martin, click here.