Babs (a man) and Regi (a woman) are planning a wedding in London. But they’ve both left same-sex partners back in Nigeria, where it’s illegal to be gay. How We Love follows the preparations for their sham marriage, while they get intermittent updates from their real partners about how things are going back home. The show is hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, with a lot to say about LGBT rights and the difficulties faced by those who have to hide their true identity to survive.
The cast is rounded out by the introduction of Rupert, the couple’s elderly neighbour, who comes round periodically for tea. Tensions run high as Babs and Regi try to present a credible picture of an engaged couple in the face of Rupert’s genuine interest in getting to know them. There’s a marked contrast between Babs’ and Regi’s snarky banter when they are alone, and their stilted attempts to talk about their relationship in front of Rupert.
Parts of the show are very funny indeed. Babs and Regi are both strong and flamboyant characters, who like to let loose when enjoying some privacy. This makes the way they initially shut down in Rupert’s company all the more affecting. The show demonstrates many layers of pretence: they fantasise about a life where they are free to love whomever they choose; they make up fanciful details for their fake relationship; they exchange reassurances of desperate optimism that everything will work out okay in the end, and they put on a brave face when receiving frightening news from Nigeria. Occasional cracks in their facade, which show just how scared and unhappy they really are, provide a sharp counterpoint to this mostly-false brightness. And it’s all enabled by excellent performances from both actors.
Where the show really excels, though, is in the way it uses familiar history to shine a light into the dark places that still exist in the world. Rupert is a Holocaust survivor, and relates his experiences in a scene that is heavy with emotional layers. Everyone can agree that the atrocities suffered by Jews, alongside gay people and other minorities, were horrifying. So, the plays asks its audience, why are we ignoring the fact that people are still being persecuted for their identities in many parts of the world? The parallels between past and present are skilfully and subtly drawn - there are no sledgehammers delivering the message here, but it hits home hard nonetheless.
How We Love is a well-constructed and emotive show, combining humour and sadness to present characters that are very easy to invest in. It makes its audience think about aspects of life they might otherwise try to avoid, by portraying an intensely personal experience of those things. How far would you compromise your sense of identity in the search for physical safety? Most of us don’t have to worry about such things, but there are still an awful lot of people in the world who do.