Event review: Rosie Wilby’s Conscious Uncoupling at the Spread Eagle pub theatre, Saturday 18th March

By - Monday 3rd April, 2017

The laughs at this show weren’t just for lesbians

Photo by Rosie Wilby, used with permission.

Hollywood A-lister Gwynneth Paltrow and her musician ex-husband, Chris Martin, gave the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ to the world when they used it to describe their separation and divorce in 2014. It’s a process defined by dictionary.com as ‘…ending a romantic partnership or marriage in a respectful, positive and constructive way’.

Lesbians, of course, had been doing this all along.

Teetering on a high ledge of stereotypical observation: it’s because women analyse their relationships. Closely. In straight pairings, she does most of this work, and explains to him what’s going on. (But that’s…. yes, I know. But I’ve found it to be true). While a two-woman pair has the whole business under a microscope, twin-tracking every romantic nuance: perhaps it’s a yin thing. (My sister and her wife have told me that it cuts both ways, and deal with excessive emotional temperature-taking by means of a tension-relieving joke: “What do you mean, what do I mean!?”.)

We’re also deeply conditioned to look after others, including those of whom we wish to be emotionally shot, and awareness of an ex’s welfare is key to a conscious break-up. You don’t just stop texting. And, as Rosie Wilby pointed out, lesbians who separate tend to stay friends because they belong to a small community: who wants to lose their friends? Your girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend’s ex-girlfriend… is probably you.

A simple idea, and it really worked

Conscious Uncoupling at the Spreadeagle pub theatre was a show about a break-up: that of Rosie and her ex Sarah, back in 2011. This event, and the partners’ unquestionably conscious responses, were relived through emails exchanged at the time and reflected upon in the present, with different sides of the stage representing time-zones and email alerts from the past arriving on Rosie’s tablet.

Put like that it sounds complicated, but it wasn’t and it really worked. It was also risky, assuming that Rosie was reading the emails verbatim (as her occasional face-pulling suggested she was). Everyone can empathise with that moment of coming across your own words and wondering who exactly this was and how they thought like that: as writer Joan Didion said: “I’ve already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be”. Respect to Rosie for looking them up in front of a live audience.

But whoever she and Sarah were back in 2011, they were kind and respectful and sad that their moment was past. The passage of time has enabled one of them at least to see why: initial similarities masked deeper differences of approach. They didn’t – and this is critically important – quite want the same things. (Sarah didn’t even want to tell her family – a level of pain which gave the show real pathos.) There were good times too: I loved Rosie’s description of how the energy of successful, happy work feeds into love, gifting you with so much more to share with another person. In the end, though, the pair’s career and life goals didn’t sync.

Rosie’s more than just a ‘lesbian comedian’

The evening’s laughs were mostly gentle, though sometimes they made you wince then laugh even more. It was nicely judged. As indeed it needed to be since Rosie’s current girlfriend was in the audience, which must have been deeply strange.

And about the lesbian thing. Rosie has a gay fanbase and she’d brought the girls along: the Spreadeagle pub theatre that evening was their space. I get this, 100% I do… straights have no idea what it means to live non-normative, unvalidated lives, not to have your story told in every book you read and every movie you see, always to be the outsider and what this does to you. When they tell us about what it’s like, we need to just shut up and listen. Lesbian space is cool. But this show was for everyone, and I wished that everyone had been there.

As my partner remarked at the end: “all hearts break the same”. Conscious Uncoupling is poignant, it’s funny, and above all, it’s universal.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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