The battle is won: equal marriage is now enshrined in law. But is marriage an institution that was really worth fighting for? That’s the question asked by John Fitzpatrick’s new play This Much (or An Act of Violence Towards the Institution of Marriage). The violence of the title puts it a little strongly; this questioning show is more of a prod at marriage and at the same time at the expectations – both social and personal – that all of our relationships are subject to.
This Much takes the well-worn plot device of the love triangle and slants it at a slight angle. Anthony (Simon Carroll-Jones) wants to settle down, to build a home, but his boyfriend Gar (Lewis Hart) is still “up in the air”, waiting to land in the adult life that continues to elude him. When Gar meets reckless twenty-something Albert (James Parris), the younger man seems to represent everything his life lacks: excitement, spontaneity, risk. The affair that follows has an inevitable feel, as does the marriage that Gar simultaneously rushes into with Anthony.
Throughout all of this, the three men are trapped inside the wedding disco of their dreams (or perhaps their nightmares), the drama all playing out to a gloriously cheesy soundtrack of Queen and Whitney Houston. In Kate Sagovsky’s production, movement between scenes hints at the closeness and distance between characters as they pull apart and draw irresistibly back together, culminating in a first dance that is half wrestle, half embrace. Surrounding the performers, meanwhile, is Alex Berry’s clever design of moveable MDF units, cluttered with the accessories of a shared life and the detritus of the big white wedding. A Nutribullet nestles next to a disco ball.
The show is elegantly threaded through with ideas of freedom and obligation, from the detailed visual clues of the design all the way to a playful take on “I Want to Break Free”. At times, Gar and Anthony seem trapped in their relationship, all the things that surround them reinforcing the picture of what long term love looks like. Albert, gleefully whipping out his cock in public and nicking biscuits from corner shops, seems by contrast to represent freedom from inhibitions and expectations, but he turns out to be just as susceptible to the idea of settling down as anyone else.
“I want to destroy the niceness of this,” says Gar in a speech to friends and family. He’s talking about the cosmetic pleasantries of the suburbs, the comforting embrace of the nuclear family, the reassurance of (the idea of) The One. All of them, like the wedding playlist, represent conformity. For gay couples asking if the replication of straight marriage is really what they want, This Much asks searching questions, critiquing the notion of fitting in. Are Gar and Anthony just, as Gar puts it, “creating the same shitty image of the family we came from”?
But This Much also speaks beyond the gay community grappling with the implications of equal marriage, prompting all of us to rethink the institution of marriage and its social and cultural baggage. In that sense, Fitzpatrick’s play could almost be a companion piece to James Fritz’s Ross & Rachel. Both interrogate and dismantle the myths of romantic love, questioning the way that we invest all our happiness in one other person and implying that social pressure has as much to do with relationships as love or attraction.
Ultimately it’s about the idea of what we want versus what we actually want. Gar, still scarred by the structural inequalities of a society that made him feel like an outsider growing up, struggles to distinguish between the two. But it’s a question that we all need to be constantly asking ourselves, This Much suggests. Although it hits the odd bum note along the way, the wedding disco closes on a fittingly unresolved refrain, leaving it up to us to keep on posing the same question.