The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale at the Camden People’s Theatre: ‘a consistently funny mathematical hysteria’
Charlie L. Jones reviews The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale at the Camden People’s Theatre, a play asking if we can put a price on our relationships.
Going into this play I was skeptical about its premise. Inspired by personal experience, Haley McGee realised that the only way she had of paying off credit card bills was through selling things that ex-boyfriends had given her. So what was their value? Not just to her, but to the audience as well.
‘Great,’ I thought, ‘the perfect play for the age of neoliberalism. You’ve already come for our universities and now you’re coming for our relationships as well.’ Well, I’ve never been happier to be so wrong. She takes this curious mechanism to ask in a delightfully nerdy way perhaps the most important question there is when it comes to relationships: is it worth it?
It’s rare to say this of a play but I was deeply impressed as to how well researched it was. Haley had worked with the mathematician Melanie Phillips to write a mind bogglingly complex equation that factored in all aspects of the relationship – from how good the sex was and who asked out who, to how long she took to get over it. Woven in with this maths seminar was intimate stories about the men who gave her the presents, at times even playing recorded interviews she had made with them in preparation for the production.
By the end we were invited to reevaluate our original guesses at the value of the items, in light of what we had heard of the men behind them. The coffee percolator plummeted in our standings when we found out the ex who gave it to her had been abusive. The battered old t-shirt had leapt up, in light of the star’s affectionate stories and gentle pining.
One-person shows are always a tricky one to pull off. Often they tend towards an extended standing monologue punctuated by the actor lamely picking up the odd prop. But not this. McGee plays with the audience and the setting, excitedly building the environment from the various things she’s dug out of the theatre’s many nooks and crannies. At one point the audience are the percussion for one of her musical routines, the next we’re answering her poll on various aspects of love, relationships and sex.
Instantly I found her relatable because I too have crippling debt. But beyond that, her intimate humour and open laugh managed to make a night about something inherently sad immensely likeable. A consistently funny madness builds to a mathematical hysteria (think a comedy remake of A Beautiful Mind), and McGee juggles her formulas to give us the answer of how much these gifts (and the relationships behind them) have really meant to her.
By the end I was worried. After giving us everything, the ins and outs of her most intimate relationships, had she left anything for herself? But after a post-play beer I began to envy her. McGee has figured out the ultimate catharsis for dissatisfying relationships. She is not just as brilliant writer and performer, but also as someone who can give you a mathematical reason not to text that ex after a few drinks.
The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale is showing at the Camden People’s Theatre until 8th December.