Mel and Ryan meet after her going-away party. She’s leaving Melbourne, headed for Los Angeles with her poet boyfriend, Liam. She’s a director and it’s the next step in her career. It’s the only thing that makes sense to her.
Mel and Ryan are keeping something from Liam and, at first glance, it seems like they are having an affair. But it’s not that straightforward. Sex, power and betrayal never are.
Cut to Los Angeles. Mel has a short film in a festival – a big one – but she and Liam are struggling financially. She’s still keen to stay in the City of Angels, close to the action, but Liam is not so sure. And Ryan is coming; he’s less sure about that. He’s worried about what Ryan is looking for; he’s a political operative and always two moves ahead.
Later, Liam and Ryan are together. Mel has moved on.
Earlier, they meet under strange circumstances. No wait, that’s much earlier.
There are many more pieces to put together in this puzzle of a narrative, taking clear inspiration from Harold Pinter’s Betrayal – the story of an affair told in reverse.
Writer Angus Cameron is not content to simply go backwards, unearthing the back story as he goes, though. For Love Nor Money begins in the middle and ends at the start, but in-between, as we shift back and forth, the characters’ are revealed to be lying to each other and – in many ways – lying to themselves.
The play takes the trope of a love triangle and adds in the complication of bisexuality and non-monogamy, threesomes and sexual power dynamics. Any two of the three could end up together, but the dramatic tension is searing because each combination is unhealthy in its own ways. And maybe, just maybe, they are all out for themselves.
Actors Matthew Connell, Clarisse Bonello and Alexander Lloyd are quite the threesome. Completely convincing in every combination: confidantes, lovers, strangers and manipulators. It’s a tricky balance to get right, but this triangle is solid.
The production keeps the characters in intimate quarters and even the two-hander scenes are watched by the third actor, sitting in a chair as if they are getting off on a voyeuristic kink. These moments are alluring and repellent. Sexy and dangerous like the best film noir.
Skilfully directed by Justin Nott – forget Pinter pauses, this show is snappy and runs like a freight train – the play also looks at the clash of art and politics and the ongoing struggle of an artist: how far are they willing to go to make a living from their passion? Ryan may literally make a living in State Parliament, but Mel has to negotiate the politics of tinsel town to get where she is going.
And what of her poor boyfriend, Liam, a poet whose creative juices have dried up since their move to the United States? How can he reclaim inspiration and power?
There are nods to other political issues in the truth of these characters’ meeting, but they seem uninterested in other peoples’ lives, except in the way it might further their careers. Cameron and Nott are determined to tease out the complications of the emerging artist’s life and how frustrating it can be to tread water – even as you’re patted on the back and asked "what are you working on next?"
Alisha Abate & Nott designed the show together, creating an intimate triangular space; three LED strips of light and three chairs at each corner. A post-modern boxing ring where the original opponents have invited a third. The clothes racks to either side help with the quick changes between scenes – and feel like a nod to Geordie Brookman’s production of Betrayal (which played at MTC in 2015).
If a career in theatre sometimes feels like two steps forward, one step back, For Love Nor Money captures that feeling in its fractured narrative form. It’s hard to appreciate where things are going, if you can’t see it in its full context. But moment to moment, the audience is kept off guard. And even when you know the facts, the character motivations are always complicated and never completely clear.
But that’s always true of people who stab you in the back, right? Especially when they have said “I love you” or “I love your work”.
For Love Nor Money is funny, complicated and provocative.