Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Michelle Barnette: Love Me Now

By | Published on Wednesday 21 March 2018

Coming up at Tristan Bates Theatre next week is ‘Love Me Now’, a slightly brutal and compelling sounding peice about the toxic potential of the modern dating scene. It’s a debut play, written by Michelle Barnette, who also produced the show.
To find out more about the play, and about Michelle herself, I arranged a quick chat ahead of opening night.

CM: Can you start by telling us what the play is about? What story does it tell?
MB: ‘Love Me Now’ is the story of an unnamed woman (‘B’) who is at the end of what has become a toxic relationship, desperately trying to figure out what went wrong.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
MB: At its heart, ‘Love Me Now’ is about the reliability and mutability of memory, the blurry lines of consent, and the toxicity that comes with treating sex as transactional. One of the things we’ve been talking about a lot in rehearsal are the games we play to make things okay, and the idea that ‘anything goes if you fancy them’ – questioning how much you can get away with so long as you’re both in on it. It really pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable, and sometimes makes it hard to mark when things go too far.

CM: What made you want to write about these themes? What inspired you to broach them? Are there specific points you wanted to make?
MB: The honest truth is that I was horribly lonely and so angry at myself. I had been putting someone else’s needs ahead of my own and letting them treat me badly under the smokescreen of “but, we get each other.” I justified – and even excused – their bad behaviour because they were “going through a hard time” and convinced myself that “it will get better when (insert excuse here)…” To be clear: he never laid a hand on me. It was an emotional purgatory. It went on far too long and I was furious that I allowed it to happen at all. All I could think was: when did I become a supporting character in my own life? How? I was determined to never let that happen again.

CM: Who are the central characters and who plays them?
MB: There are three characters in ‘Love Me Now’, all nameless.

A is played by Alistair Toovey, who goes straight into ‘An Octoroon’ at the National Theatre after our run. It was the role that required the most sensitivity in casting, actually, because even though he behaves badly it’s so vital that he remains human. ‘Love Me Now’ was written before the #MeToo movement, but what we found was that actors went from adoring the role pre-MeToo to openly calling him a cunt, which just wasn’t useful. We needed an actor with the tact and bravery to embrace a problematic role and find his humanity. The character list describes him as someone who “should know better”. It’s this idea that even people who are brought up to respect women and treat them as equals, who otherwise have the best intentions, can somehow get carried away and lose themselves in the process.

B is played by Helena Wilson who was most recently in Elinor Cook’s ‘The Lady from the Sea’ at the Donmar and will be in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ at the Donmar in June. B is an incredibly complicated character. She’s desperate for love but terrified of it. She’s sharp, witty, intelligent, good at her job, and probably her own worst enemy. She’s built up this idea that to be a modern woman she has to be sexually liberated, independent, never complain, and always up for anything, and she’s very much struggling to come to terms with how destructive this lifestyle is. Helena was our frontrunner from the beginning and has absolutely embraced this role. It’s not a small ask of an actress, and it requires extreme vulnerability, so we’ve been incredibly careful in rehearsals to make sure she – and the rest of the company – feel safe and comfortable at all times.

Finally we have C, played by Gianbruno Spena. C is perfect on paper, but I think I’ll leave it at that for the moment. Best to leave some things to the imagination!

CM: And can you tell us a bit about the rest of your creative team?
MB: They’re brilliant. Heading up the creative team is Jamie Armitage, who directed the hit ‘SiX’ in Edinburgh last summer. Our set and costume designer is Fin Redshaw, who was part of the Old Vic 12 fresh out of drama school and went on to win a Linbury Prize. Ben Jacobs, our lighting designer, has just won an Off West End Award for Best Lighting Design. Last but not least is our sound designer Andy Josephs, who can usually be found working at the Bridge Theatre but also works as a freelancer on the West End.

CM: Have you been very involved with the production, or did you hand over the script and step back?
MB: One of my favourite things about working in theatre is the rehearsal process, so even when I’m producing I tend to be around and available for them. I’ve been in and out of the rehearsal room making changes to the script as we go, less so as we’re getting to the end. It’s been really great to watch the piece develop with actors in a space and Jamie has been very generous in checking in with me to see if the play is going in the direction I’d imagined. Having said that, I trust Jamie and the team wholeheartedly. Ultimately my job is to step back and let their vision for ‘Love Me Now’ take form.

CM: You are primarily known for producing, rather than writing, and this is your debut play. What inspired you to write? Did you always want to?
MB: I actually wrote ‘Love Me Now’ before I started producing, back when I was still acting, as a writing exercise more than anything else. Writing has always been cathartic for me, a way to organise thoughts and emotions in a productive way, so I’ve got boxes upon boxes of ideas, scenes, short stories, and journals. This has been an incredibly special journey. At the end of the first read through with the company on day one I genuinely cried tears of joy. It’s been a dream come true.

CM: Will you continue to write?
MB: I’d love to!

CM: What plans or ambitions do you have for the future?
MB: I love producing and I love writing, and I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have gotten where I am and be able to do both. As a writer: it’s hard to say really! It’s all very new and exciting, and could literally go anywhere. I have some projects that I’m working on but only time will tell.

As a producer: I want to keep championing artists who create bold, challenging work. Hopefully people connect to that work. In a dream world, five years from now I’ll have had a show that’s been to the States, had the chance to collaborate with some brilliant artists and venues to create theatre I find exciting and necessary, and perhaps be looking towards getting a show on in the West End (even as an Associate Producer). I’d love to run a venue one day. There we go. Christ. I’d better get back to work.

CM: What’s coming up next, after this?
MB: I have a few tricks up my sleeve but nothing I’m allowed to say yet! Watch this space.


‘Love Me Now’ is on at Tristan Bates Theatre from 27 Mar-14 Apr, see the venue website here for more information and to book.

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Photo: Hannah Ellison