Although Random Accomplice have signposted the Random Bites series as a more experimental short format – allowing co-founder Johnny McKnight a chance to explore a darker monologue than his triumphant trilogy would allow – the voice of this one-woman monologue is familiar from Little Johnny’s previous work. The attention to detail, the occasional witty aside, the preoccupation with the revelatory power of trivia: McKnight’s skill with language has merely been shifted onto a female character, and transposed into a more sinister context. Despite a vicious ending, Love Hurts makes the most of McKnight’s wit and command of west coast patter.
The themes of Love Hurts – the darker side of sexual desire, rough sex and hot three-way action – are certainly a step beyond the warmth and joy that characterised Johnny’s three Big Gay Adventures: yet after the success of Promises, Promises, Random Accomplice are comfortable stroking the underbelly of desire. At under an hour, it is a brilliantly structured descent into depravity and death – STV’s Toni Frutin captures the self-righteous innocence of Susan perfectly, and McKnight’s script balances the dry humour with the unfolding of vengeful passion.
Technically, Love Hurts is a triumph. Dave Shea’s lighting design is unconventional, adding to the broader atmosphere by a series of partial fades: as an object lesson in the power of the monologue, Love Hurts is masterful. In its analysis of how surprisingly awoken desires can lead to violence, it is supple and sharp. The slightly despairing domesticity of Susan becomes the naturally fertile ground for her murderous impulses.
Unfortunately, especially in a month where the Mental Health Film and Art Festival is occupying many of Scotland’s venues, the depiction of mental ill-health is jarring. From a few early laughs about “happy pills,” the foundation of Susan’s savagery is linked to her undefined mental health problem. While it is possible that her slip from sexual experimentation into killing is the product of mental illness, the representation here is too easy. There’s no attempt to uncover the reasons for her problems, beyond suggestions about her childlessness. The piece may be too short for thorough analysis, but left hanging, it becomes uncomfortable stereotyping. There’s little need for McKnight’s anti-heroine to be suffering: the plot features enough BDSM and thwarted romance to explain why a housewife would kill a rival in love.
Love Hurts is a powerful work from a very talented author: McKnight manages to write a character that is not an extension of himself – the Little Johnny character is quite clearly a version of him, and unapologetically so - and intrigue through the unwinding of the drama. His direction is gripping, Frutin lends his brooding antagonist a sympathy despite her lack of self-knowledge and nasty streak. But in a Glasgay! that consciously brings representations of sexuality to light, the depiction of mental illness is unfortunately all too predictable.