Made in China’s latest production, Tonight I’m Gonna Be the New Me, tests the limits of audience discomfort with its playful approach to pushing the boundaries of interactive theatre. Performed by founding members, Jessica Latowicki and Tim Cowbury, the audience is immersed in a version of their relationship, continuously tracing the blurred line between fact and fiction, reality and fantasy.
The delicious sense of audience anticipation, evoked by the uncertainty of what to expect from a new production, is seized upon and manipulated by Jessica in the opening scene. Dressed in micro shorts and a crop top, red light spilling into the small box that forms the set, she begins a jerking dance, limbs juddering violently, the whirring of a large fan the only other sound besides her increasingly heavy breathing. This unusual dance escalates until she appears completely out of control of her body, arms flapping wildly, colliding with her bare flesh, writhing wildly on the floor, hips thrusting upwards, pulsing to a silent beat as the tension is drawn out and out.
After what feels like an age, but can be no more than ten to fifteen minutes, the fan clicks off and Jessica stills. Seemingly oblivious to the audience, she wanders to the side of the stage to take a few gulps of water and blasts of an inhaler. Finally she looks to her audience, smiling; “You guys like my dance?” And just like that, the tension breaks with a hearty laugh and Jess (as she introduces herself) has us all in the palm of her hand.
Innovatively constructed, Jessica’s conversational style delivery of the the loosely woven narrative is expertly crafted to fool the audience into believing we are experiencing something entirely improvised and natural. We are introduced to Tim who we all give a wave to in his lighting booth at the back of the studio; “He’s my boyfriend in real life… He’s a writer. He’s the writer. He’s also doing lights.” Yet again, we are thrown off balance as the usual rules of theatre are turned on its head; instead of trying to capture our imaginations so we lose grasp of reality within the story, as is usually the case, our attention is drawn to the fact this is a script, a performance, a piece of work that has been carefully designed and manufactured. And yet, cleverly this only serves to further muddy the divide of what is real and what is not as it is impossible to tell how much of Jess and Tim’s relationship is derived from fact and how much is pure fiction. A petty argument descends into a full blown sparring war, accusations being hurled between Jess on stage and Tim in the lighting booth; either a well-acted, realistic reflection of the little things that come to irritate you in a long-term relationship, or a brave and potentially precarious decision to lay bare the true emotions and points of contention within their partnership. Either way, it works.
The show has a surreal quality to it; midway through Jess demands a beer, performing a strange dance titled ‘Ladies Lying Down’ whilst Tim dutifully fetches her drink, presumably from the Chapter Bar. This second dance consists solely of Jess lying in various poses whilst smoke billows from the floor beneath her, a disco ball slowly rotating above the stage as she moves languidly from one position to the next. Upon Tim’s return, Jess returns to her loquacious, slightly manic self, gulping down the beer as she continues her tale.
Finally, Jess prepares herself for one final performance. “I don’t think I need to dedicate this last dance.” Arms held aloft, eyes closed, she spins faster and faster to the thrumming of a dull beat, a graceful silhouette before the pulsing pink light behind her. Finally, she stops, walking slowly from the stage, having shared her pain and shed some of the heavy weight of her grief, she leaves, A New Me.
(image courtesy of RULER)