If You Love Me This Might Hurt by Matty May – Camden People’s Theatre, London
First impressions of Matty May’s one man show at Camden People’s Theatre are that it could be a tough night. The set is an armchair, positioned in front of a wall of words that hint at stories of disfunction, grim sex, pain and self-harm. As May himself confirms, he will be talking about his suicide attempts, but he reassures us that we needn’t worry about him and he feels happy to discuss these matters with us. This caring and conversational approach gives the show a character that elevates it above the standard confessional. He tell us what it has been like being gay – with his family in working class Barking, at school and then as an adult. It is easy to imagine how tough it could be, and May confirms some of our expectations: bullying, contempt, sexual objectification and depression being some of the things that have led him to attempt suicide on a number of occasions. But the darkness is balanced against humour and warmth. Matty’s nan has been a crucial source of loving support in a chaotic family situation, while those who have stood up for him, such as the girls in his sixth form who tore into boys plastering the walls with mocking posters, play a big role.
May has produced the show with Daisy Hale, and they keep it simple. Transitional moments in his story are marked with subtle music and lighting changes, while May throws the occasional dramatic pose and enjoys a little lip-syncing. These ideas are not over-used, and serve to structure the evening without overshadowing May himself. He is the main attraction, not a polished performer but able to convince the audience that he is for real. He wins over everyone with his mixture of vulnerability and honesty. His embarrassment and distaste at having to recall visits to gay saunas and other excesses is entirely without artifice, and we feel for him. The standing ovation at the end of the show includes every member of the audience. Yes, it hurt: yes, it worked!