Jump Starting A Marriage After Twenty Five Years
Michele Riml tells us why people relate to her comedy about a couple trying to revive passion
Checking into a trendy spa hotel, Alice and Henry are on a mission; to jump start their twenty five year marriage. Time has taken its toll – so have kids, stress and gravity. Hoping to rekindle their flagging sex life, the couple find that re-flaming the fires of passion is not as simple as making a hotel reservation.
The Tabard Theatre's forthcoming production, Sexy Laundry (31 October - 25 November) by Michele Riml was first staged in 2002 in Vancouver and has gone on to be a smash hit show with multiple runs in the US, Canada and across eastern Europe.
Michele with her husband of 20 years, actor/writer Mike St John Smith
Michele believes that its success is due to an enduringly universal theme, one which will resonate with anyone in a long term relationship, how to revive a flagging marriage.
"I got the idea sixteen years ago. I was married and was thinking about marriages and the idea came to me as I started hearing this couple arguing in my head as I was going for my walks. We did it as a fringe show in Vancouver and it just really resonated with audiences, got picked up by larger theatres and went from there.
Michele says the play is about real communication, about relationships between men and women, and while at its core there are difficult issues raised, when these are handled with humour and honesty, audiences tend to react appreciatively.
"Often when relationships struggle, there's a sense of a finger pointing, saying 'you're the problem', but you have to look at yourself too when something is not quite right. I definitely think it takes two to tango, though of course I'm not referring to abusive situations which is a different matter.
"One of the things I was most interested in is that while the characters are in their early to mid fifties, we live in a youth driven culture. Henry and Alice are suffering from being under the illusion of the romantic ideals of partnerships, Alice particularly is questioning her place in the world."
Michele's eight plays all centre around the theme of relationships though they are very differently handled. Immediately after Sexy Laundry, she wrote a play about a 17-year-old boy who turns a gun on his guidance counsellor.
"People were a little shocked at that as it was so different but again it was about communication. It was about learning to listen to another person. I find the highest compliment that can be paid is when a reviewer says that there is a compassionate message in my work."
Michele, who is married for twenty years, and has an 18 year old son, grew up in north Vancouver, where she still lives.
"I loved to read and journal when I was 17 and I wrote my first play for my drama class and entered The BC Young Drama Award. When it won I realised I had got the bug and that writing was a way to filter the world. My father died when I was sixteen and I had written about it, and it was transformative to take something difficult and share it with others through character and story."
Michele went to acting school, but "I realised I was better on the other side of the stage". She started to write Fringe plays, worked in advertising as a copywriter to pay the bills, and slowly built on her writing until she won recognition with Sexy Laundry.
Many women immediately resonate with the theme of Sexy Laundry, but Michele says she worked hard to not make it a "man bashing" play.
"I wanted to make sure the men were well and fairly represented. Henry makes some really good arguments, and both characters are relatable. Whether it can help save marriages is debatable. I did have a nice reaction once when a woman wrote to me and said that after seeing the play her husband had sent her flowers for the first time in years."
The show stars Felicity Duncan (Rosie in Mamma Mia! International tour, Anyone Can Whistle and Lear, Union Theatre) and Nick Raggett (his many TV series include Pie in the Sky, The Sins, Missing, The Fear). This production marks its UK Premiere and is directed by Phoebe Barran who also directed Tryst at the Tabard Theatre last year.
Michele is currently attending rehearsals and enjoying being in London after a gap of many years. "I was here in my twenties and had a British boyfriend, and had spent some time here but I didn't absorb London at that time, so now I get to walk round and look at the city and visit places such as the British Museum and experience the deep rich British tradition here."
Sexy Laundry was so popular that Michele decided to write a sequel, 'Henry and Alice Into the Wild'.
This time the couple grapples with money problems. Henry has lost his job in the 2008 recession and they are struggling financially. They go camping together and the trip away brings up several unresolved issues.. Alice is starting to look forward into her future life, and mid-life has not turned out the way she expected it to be. "I think a lot of people are struggling with this, particularly after the recession, with pensions lost etc. So again, while it's a comedy, its underpinning that there are a lot of emotions and a sense of fear for the future"
Michele is currently working on a new project with her husband, actor/writer Mike St John Smith, on a play called The Cult, and she is also collaborating on a project with a musician in Eastbourne. There is also talk of taking Sexy Laundry to Paris.
"Marriages break up for lots of reasons, sometimes it's a power struggle, but I think what's good about being married is that it sometimes keeps you in the room a bit longer. People do change as they get older and sometimes one gets left behind. But it's not easy, it's a struggle, there's hills and valleys for sure.
"Sexy Laundry is a celebration of marriage or long term relationships. But it's not a Disney take on love and romance."
October 21, 2018