'Tonight I'm Gonna Be The New Me' review or 'I like wearing trousers, actually.'

‘Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me’, Made in China
Soho Theatre, 16th September 2015

Relationships are all about power. Sometimes this power game can be a properly beautiful thing; you lose yourselves in each other and, yet, somehow never lose sight of yourself completely. Sometimes, though, this relationship power game can be really quite ugly, reductive and sad. ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Be The New Me’ is all about the power game that is falling in and out of love.

This latest offering from ‘Made in China’ – a company exceptionally attuned to its audience and the power play inherent to all theatre - is officially a one-woman show, performed by Jessica Latowicki. But this is a one-woman show that constantly looks beyond itself and is as much about those outside the show as those within it. Jessica Latowicki, you see, is in a relationship with Tim. For the purposes of this show, Tim is supposedly the stage manager who sits at the side of the stage. Jessica and Tim were once very much in love – they used to run through fields and cling fiercely to each other – but now things have gotten messy. Jessica is trying to wrestle back control of this relationship, her identity and the show, which sparks and cracks, yawns open and slams shut, working with and against Jessica at every turn. Jessica is determined to own the stage but the stage, it seems, has other ideas.  

‘Tonight’ begins with Jessica, who wears sparkly hot pants and a tight crop top, dancing on stage. This is her moment. Only everything about the dance is a little out of whack. Jessica’s movements are sort of liberating - whirling and grinding and stompy and sexy – but Jessica’s face tells a different story. Whilst her body owns that stage (a bare square space surrounded by a skeletal frame of poles), Jessica’s face looks despondent, lost, blank or angry. A lot of the time, it feels like her body is moving and juddering without her permission – and when Jessica whirls her limbs really quickly against a glaring red light, it looks like little pieces of her are disappearing.

Dance is a big theme here – and it’s such a punchy way to explore the ideas of identity and control that are bound up in this production – but the audience also has a massive role to play. ‘Tonight’, in fact, is obsessed with its audience. Jessica spends most of her time looking out towards us, alternately glaring or smiling, pulling us in and then spitting us back out again. We’re constantly asked to answer questions and then fed back our response, which we are told to repeat. We’re desired and dismissed in all of a second.  As Jessica tells the story of her relationship with Tim and its gradual deterioration, the audience is taken on a similarly jolting journey, loved and loathed – accepted and rejected – at every turn. Eventually we don’t know who to trust, what our role is and quite how much we should assert ourselves in this show that surely isn’t ours at all.

The audience is just one part of the power play and the show itself – the control that both the narrative and stage space exerts – is just as important. The normal conventions and power structures implicit within theatre are inverted or skewed at every possible moment. Jessica’s boyfriend Tim is the stage manager. He is also, according to the programme notes, the co-creator (alongside Jessica) of this show. Tim, then, is controlling the words that come from Jessica’s mouth. He is also the man who has the power to turn off the lights, to switch on that huge fan in the middle of the stage or flood the stage with sparkly paper. Jessica might own that stage but Tim is controlling the effects, designer Emma Bailey is controlling Jessica’s space, and we – the audience – are helping to govern the energy. Or at least that is how we’re made to feel, anyway.

Gradually Jessica begins to take control of her story but the twists that she takes – the way she forces that narrative to wrestle back the power – is pretty fucked up indeed. Early on in show, we are all asked to comment on our own relationship status, a question which rattles round in the head throughout. The constant call outs to the crowd – the constant snapping of the illusion and supposed fracturing of that gap between the stage and crowd – means we’re deeply immersed by the end of the show. We have lost ourselves in someone else’s performance and it is utterly exhilarating – but just a little bit terrifying too.