Review: Me & Thee at The Empty Space, Salford

Friendship is a funny thing.

I think the Covid panny-d has caused a lot of reflection on this matter.

Who did we miss, who did we not miss, who did we keep in contact with, who did we not. Who did we keep in contact with but then not once we re-entered the world again. Who did we not, but then picked up with as though nothing had happened.

Friendship and relationships are complex and a lot of the time unfathomable. I’m not who I was at 5, 12, 16, 18, 21. Although at my core I don’t think a lot has changed. I’m still mortified by the same things, highly amused by the same things, attracted to the kind and also to the offbeat…

My motivations for friendship probably have changed. There can be a natural cull on both sides of the fence for reasons of geography, life choices, priorities, values, stresses and strains and sometimes an unholy and massive row (although, I think we can all hold our hands up to the passive, drifted approach to friendship break-ups)…

Manchester based Farewell Theatre Company made their comeback performance with Me & Thee this weekend, marking their first live show in front of audiences will since the pandemic.

Written by James Ward, Me & Thee throws us straight into a night in the life of two old friends (played by Ross Thompson and Reece Hallam), who, separated by geography, lifestyle choices etc and so forth, are reunited, ‘enjoying’ a night out seemingly consisting of drinking and dancing followed by more than a touch of the disorderly.

The visual signifiers are immediately there: both in the uniform of the man in his 20s (I’m guessing), trackie tops, jeans and Adidas footwear are all present and correct, but one wears it smarter somehow, the other more street (god I sound old). We’ll call them Smart (Thompson) and Street (Hallam).

Both return to Smart’s apartment in a mess. A drunken, bloody post-brawly mess. Street is energised by the encounter with strangers, Smart less so and somewhat shaken.

But no time for a post-fight post-mortem. Smart has a mini-fridge and Street is all over it.

As we gain clues into their current lives and their past, it is clear that what once brought them together no longer binds them. Shared experiences and memories can be a tonic for the soul, enough to keep friends together. But when one has ‘changed’, the other less so, the once compatible can be no more.

Commenting on the play, writer, James Ward says,

“We all have that one friend who, if you met today, as the person you are now, would not be someone you’d even associate with, let alone call your closest friend, and I think it’s important to explore that, to figure out what a healthy relationship really looks like in hindsight.This story raises this question in ourselves and will leave audiences looking at the person next to them, their best friend, their partner, and asking do they know them or like them at all?”

The production employs clever devices; lighting, recorded sounds and voices unseen, to give the audience a glimpse into the past. Those milestone moments in Street’s life which have led him to the chaos that he finds himself in. No job, just schemes, no partner or part in his son’s life, soon-to-have no home…all so different to Smart’s seemingly living the good-life set-up.

He’s written a book, he’s got an audition for Corrie, for goodness sake.

So far, their lives so polarised. But are they. The initial set up of hero and villain, angel and devil, starts to unravel. We’re shown a vulnerability to Street, a life not what it seems. Not the aggressor in the tortured relationship with his ex-partner, but the victim. For all the embarrassment caused to his friend with his approach to life which doesn’t seem to have changed since they both sat smoking out the back of the bakery where they both worked, there is a kindness and respect shown to Smart that doesn’t appear returned. Whereas Street’s foibles might be all out there on the table, Smart’s are hidden away until an uncomfortable explosion of bitterness, recriminations and home-truths come screaming out.

When push comes to literal shove, these two might be incompatible, but are they so different and is it clear-cut just who is ‘winning’ and who is not?

A sweeping statement but one I make often and will continue to. Fringe theatre is everything. The themes are wide-ranging and unapologetic and often so real. In just over 60 minutes, Me and Thee explored suicide, domestic violence, alcoholism, separation, child custody…it was all there. Without restraint and unencumbered by requirements of mass appeal or lofty production values, there is nowhere to hide.

Photo credit: Shay Rowan

Two actors, dialogue laid bare, no prop or scenery design thrills and spills to distract (Connect 4 aside), the writing and the acting takes (literal) centre stage in the spotlight.

Theatre and indeed art should make you think, feel something. Me & Thee achieves this in spades. Uncomfortable, relatable, debatable, it was the holy trinity of what gives me a thrill from fringe theatre. And as me and my very own ‘thee’ headed to off to our Dockyard debrief, we left feeling entertained and inspired to examine what makes a friendship, what breaks one, and how us humans can be complicated little buggers at times.

In summary, the University of Salford gives good illumni. And by good, I mean brilliant. And a shout-out to The Empty Seats theatre (formerly Footlights House). I love heading to a new space and look forward to returning in future.

So welcome back Farewell – and don’t leave it so long next time (I know, I say that like you had a choice – but I basically wanted to get in the So long, farewell…thing).

Read more…

Farewell Theatre Company previously brought ‘Boots ‘n’ Braces’, to the stage,which was performed as part of the 2019 Greater Manchester Fringe Festival to two sold out audiences; earning the company a nomination for Best Newcomer at the 2019 Fringe Awards.

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