If I had watched Sense8 earlier, I could have already seen Brian J. Smith live on stage in London (I remember reading his name back then but not knowing who he was I didn’t book a ticket) and I would have been able to appreciate so much more that I was able to see Freema Agyeman live on stage last year. Now Tuppence was the first of the Sense8 cast that I got to see live on stage (on purpose) and meet afterwards.
The play (contains spoilers)
This is how the play is described on the Back cover of the play text:
Harry and Jo are up all night drawing battle lines of a relationship based on desire, dependency and dirty games.
A viciously funny play by Vicky Jones, The One invites you into the world of a couple trapped in a destructive cycle of love and lust.
The expressions that stand out and describe pretty well what the play felt like are „viciously funny‟ and „destructive‟. The music before the play starts supposedly sets the mood for a love story (e.g. „The Power of Love‟ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood), but the first scene we see is already quite sobering: Harry and Jo have sex sitting on the couch in the livingroom and the only sounds of moaning come from the porn on TV. Jo reaches for some candy (still during the act) and switches the channel to a documentary one… (This is pretty much the complete opposite of how sex is depicted in Sense8.) There is no sense of passion – at least not in Jo.
The couple – he a university professor and she a former student of his – have been together for more than four years. They will hurt each other during a night of waiting for Jo’s sister to have her baby – both verbally and physically. It doesn’t help that Kerry, a friend and colleague of Harry’s turns up (twice) in the middle of the night, first telling the couple about her boyfriend having sexually assaulted her in „a form of rape‟ (a concept which Jo finds ridiculous, as Kerry neither said „no‟ nor tried o stop him). Jo’s vicious monologue about how Kerry is actually the culprit here is delivered with such spite by Tuppence:
[…] All because you weren’t prepared to say, ’not tonight darling, I don’t feel like it‘. Honestly, That’s all you had to say, and instead you just lie there thinking ‚this is a form of rape. I’m being in some form raped,‘ when the poor guy was just trying to have make-up sex with you. It’s the most selfish, manipulative, mean-hearted thing you could possibly do to a person.
Hearing these words being said by a woman was a bitter pill to swallow.
A lot more is said and done in this night, which makes you wonder why these two people actually stay together, for instance Harry suggests to spice up their relationship by opening the relationship so that either could have sex with other people. It seems to be what Jo has wanted for a while, so she’s all for it, but then Harry says „Gotcha. I would never. Ever. Share you with fucking anybody.‟. In the end – when Kerry shows up at their doorstep once again and confesses his love for Harry (they had had sex once four years ago when Harry and Jo were already dating) – Harry emphasizes his love for Jo and sends Kerry away.
But that’s not the end yet. In retaliation of Harry’s „game‟ of „Let’s have an open relationship. Not.‟ Jo tells Harry she’s pregnant and that this time she wants to keep it (she’s had an abortion before). Harry is completely and utterly happy – and the audience also feels glad that there is a happy ending after all. And then she says, „I lied. Gotcha.‟ This is by far the cruellest scene of the whole play, the people in the audience audibly gasped in horror. Harry gets up to leave for good but closes the door from the inside. Jo has her back to the door, seems relieved he’s gone. Harry watches her. Lights out.
A very intense and uncomfortable play that has made me feel even more at ease with the prospect of having a long-distance relationship. Tuppence plays a character that couldn’t be further away from Riley on Sense8. But that’s what makes her such a brilliant actress, she pulls it off completely – I never once saw Riley in her. I sat in the front row (twice) and I had to consciously force myself to look at the other two actors – who were amazing too! – on stage from time to time, not wanting to miss a single one of her facial expressions. She was simply mesmerizing – and is staggeringly beautiful.
2nd August (after the matinee)
The Soho Theatre is one of these smaller theaters that don’t have an extra stage door, so I just waited at the bottom of the stairs for Tuppence to come down. There was a gentleman also waiting for the cast to sign his program. This is, incidentally, something I absolutely love about my stage-door experiences: There is no age limit or gender line that can’t be crossed.
Now, there I was wearing my red Sense8 shirt waiting slightly nervously for „Riley‟. When Tuppence came down the stairs in her dungarees and red top, she first turned to the man and then turned towards me with a smile. I pointed at my shirt and she seemed really happy to see that. I had her sign my program and the Sense8-DVD, pointing out that this a rare item as they are not supposed to be for sale. I also started rambling a bit about how I had only started watching Sense8 this year and how I couldn’t believe they had cancelled it. If I remember correctly she agreed with me on that. I also told her that I had wanted to give her a mural pin (and showed her mine) but that I know that Nicole, another Sensie, had already given her one as a gift, so now I had no gift for her. She was all like: „That’s all right! You don’t need to give me anything! It’s so nice of you to even think about that.‟ I also told her that I’d come back on the 8th, a date she immediately connected with the birth of her cluster. So to everyone who might be disappointed in her not being vocal about Sense8 on social media: She has not forgotten about Sense8 and she clearly appreciated Sense8 fans coming to see her show. After having my picture taken with her (the gentleman who was still waiting for the rest of the cast offered to take the photo) I asked her whether I could hug her (I normally don’t ask that of any actor or actress I meet) and she said, „Of course, I’m just sweaty…‟ and we hugged goodbye. Before I left the theater, I went to the toilets where I teared up a little. I felt so happy!
8th August (after the evening performance)
The atmosphere around my second encounter with Tuppence was a bit less intimate because there were so many people all around, as the next play was going to start soon and people were waiting to be let in. (The Soho Theatre has three locations for plays and a bar.) But I didn’t see anyone else waiting for Tuppence. I was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any other Sensies about… (I had sort of dreamed of a group of us singing „What’s Up?‟ for Tuppence). When she came down the stairs in a beautiful black dress with white leaves (or something like that) and saw me, her face immediately lit up and she came straight to me.
I handed her my card and said „Happy Birthday!‟. She said: „Oh, that’s so nice of you, should I open it now?‟ (or something along these lines) I told her she may do that but that I didn’t expect her to read the whole thing (I had copied – by hand – most of my blog post about how I relate to Riley), but that maybe she could read what I had written in the second card. She was totally surprised and grateful when she saw how much I had written. She read the second card and then gave me a hug to thank me. After taking a selfie with me she once again thanked me for coming by a second time and I also told her that it was interesting to watch the play a second time and see how the audience reacted to stuff I already knew was going to happen. After both of saying thanks again, she turned to someone who had been waiting for her to sign a number of pictures – must have been one of these (semi-)professional autograph hunters… I left feeling content and – once again – happy that my passion for London theatre has made it possible for me to tell (mostly in writing) an actress how much her work touches me. Of course, that is also possible when meeting actors at fan conventions – like Sense8Con next year – but to me coming to see an actor play on stage is a completely different way of showing your appreciation. I’m glad I was able to see Tuppence Middleton this way, as I’m pretty sure she’s not the kind of person who’d gladly go to a convention. But, as my encounter has shown, this does not mean that she doesn’t care or appreciate Sense8 fans.
Everyone who has criticized the cast of Sense8 of not tweeting about „their birthday‟ should keep in mind that everyone has their own way of remembering stuff like that and the cast cannot afford to live in the past, thinking only about what they’ve lost (and they cannot openly promote a continuation of Sense8) – they need to make a living NOW and in the future. They can’t keep watching Sense8 over and over, they can’t say, „I’ll boycott Netflix from now on if they don’t give me my job on Sense8 back.‟ Don’t blame them for being quiet – blame Netflix. Even the most quiet actors on social media (Max Riemelt) still hold Sense8 as something precious in their hearts and are deeply grateful for the love they have received from the fans of the show.