The modern dating scene is fraught with danger and tension. The advent of online dating and dating apps like Tinder and Bumble means that the basic ability to judge a partner on how they appear is now somewhat obscured. So how do we cope with this change? For a younger generation of adults just coming of age, this manner of meeting people is all they’ve known – it is accepted as part and parcel of modern romance, and the savvy that comes with having grown up with technology as opposed to having had to adapt to it allows most to weed out the catfish from the big catch.
Jumping this hurdle as a 30-something with two kids is, however, altogether different. As playwright Ashleigh Harvey noted in her preview, this requires some mental acrobatics to be able to put oneself out there – especially as a woman – and show the required vulnerability to list on a dating site or app and present yourself to the world.
Which is, according to Harvey, how we came to have The Dead Tinder Society, a new play at the Pieter Toerien Studio Theatre at Montecasino that explores the dating app experience for Jody Green, a newly divorced woman in her 30’s with two kids. Sharon Spiegel-Wagner is really fantastic in this role, delivering countless monologues with the the perfect amount of dry humour and enough self-deprecation to keep you wondering how close to the surface Jody’s self-loathing really is. Spiegel-Wagner really is very funny, and in a variety of ways – her delivery, her body movements, and her facial expressions all have separate moments that make the audience laugh. She holds court spectacularly in the moments between vignettes, and we get excited with her when she’s preparing to go on her next date, and fume with her as she describes how her ex-husband’s infidelity has scarred her emotional make-up.
Mpho Osei-Tutu also excels as Ray, Jody’s friend and confidant who convinces her to give Tinder a try. Osei-Tutu’s range is really something to behold, as Ray is often the straight man-foil to Jody’s antics; but Osei-Tutu also plays the roles of all of Jody’s various Tinder dates, from a timid, sweet, shy man who is overwhelmed by Jody’s drinking to a model/investment banker/stripper with a never-ending supply of marijuana. I loved the little tics that he added for each persona, with both subtle and overt changes to his facial expressions, posture and gestures that distinctly separated the characters from one another. A fine performance that really balances Spiegel-Wagner’s, as they play off each other magnetically throughout the show. This chemistry also allows the more emotional moments of the show to find purchase with the audience, as Jody and Ray’s relationship develops through the twists and turns of their dating adventures.
These terrifically nuanced on-stage relationships are, of course, a hallmark of Lesedi Job’s directing. Once again, we see a production where the bringing to life of a relationship yanks the audience into an intimate familiarity with the characters almost instantaneously. Despite the stage’s relative lack of size, the innovative use of space – another of Job’s trademarks – totally transforms what I have come to expect from the Pieter Toerien Studio. Aided by some clever set design which disguises the dressing room door, the full extent of the stage is seen by the audience and used. Despite having no actual set changes, the space is regularly (and recognizably) switched from one setting to another, but is done in a way that never leaves the audience wondering where the action is taking place.
This is also due to Luke Draper’s effective lighting design, casting clubs in hues of red and green while never washing the colours out of the set or actors. I also particularly enjoyed the Jaco van Rensburg’s AV design and effects – from the overwhelming noise of the music in bars and clubs, to the amusing use of projection to allow the audience to watch over Jody’s shoulder as she views various profiles on Tinder and swipes left and right. A significant aspect of this show versus other shows I have seen in the space was the lack of background noise, which makes all the difference – the usual hum that often obscures dialogue and song was missing, and if this was a specific production decision, then the production team of Harry Faulkner and Alyssa Harrison should be commended.
All in all, The Dead Tinder Society is a funny, provocative meditation on adapting to the newest form of dating, and the questions it poses – many more than there are satisfactory answers. It reminds us that love and relationships are always messy, but it has the heartwarming touch added by playwright Ashleigh Harvey to remain lighthearted at every turn.
The Dead Tinder Society is playing at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Studio Theatre from July 26 to August 25. Tickets are available from the box office and Computicket.