Arts Theatre

First Time Last Time tries to cut through tropes

Trying to avoid traditional partnering
Trying to avoid traditional partnering

It’s a familiar story: flighty, free-spirited girl meets conservative, curmudgeonly boy. She brightens up his life with eccentric adventures, and he tries to tame her into a normal, domesticated relationship. Resentment brews on both sides, but conventional values eventually win out. The formerly wild girl learns that the comfort of familiar arms is worth more than the relentless pursuit of quirky novelty. True love ensues.

First Time Last Time takes this tired trope and reinvigorates it with a simple twist: what if both parties were dead-set against traditional partnership? How can two people avoid falling prey to the tiresome, inevitable repetitiveness of life once the honeymoon is over and it’s time to negotiate who does the dishes?

Over the course of 15 years, Ben and Airlea do everything in their power to keep their relationship new and fresh. Like every young couple who see the dullness of responsible adult life and whisper to each other “please let that never be us,” they vow that their love will be different.

“They’re desperate to never repeat themselves or let things go stale,” says Mat Busby, who plays one-half of the capricious couple. “They’re desperate to avoid the clichés of a normal relationship.”

At a time when seemingly all your Facebook friends are getting married and popping out babies, the pressure to conform can feel enormous. And even if you do hold out and remain the wacky bohemian couple, everyone assumes that in the end you’ll grow up and settle down.

“Are we just doing all this because it’s habit?” asks Busby, cutting to the heart of the matter: will Ben and Airlea relive the same old narratives simply because everyone expects them to? Or because they lack the imagination to forge a truly unique bond?

First Time Last Time looks to resist the weary formula at every turn, bouncing its star-crossed lovers through a series of romantic clichés that they struggle valiantly to upend. But an endless pursuit of novelty can come at a cost.

“There’s always that uncertainty, that panic that this is the only person I’ve ever slept with,” says Madeleine Suddaby, who plays the other commitment-phobic lover. “Those questions like, what if I’m making a huge mistake? What if I’m wasting other opportunities?”

Our actors, like the characters they play, note they developed an instant chemistry as soon as they started rehearsing. Whether the play succeeds at inventing a revolutionary new kind of love, or succumbs to the old conventions in the end, remains to be seen.

Until Sun, Mar 29 (7:30 pm; 2 pm Sunday matinees)
Directed by John Hudson
Varscona Theatre, $11 – $27

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