I can remember as a teenager poring over my Plays and Players magazine and reading about this new dynamic company Paines Plough, who were doing tough new right-on plays that were changing the world. It’s only taken me 36 years finally to see one’s of their productions! Mike Bartlett’s Love Love Love has been touring since March and has two more weeks to go in Cambridge and Oxford.
The play traces the fortunes of a couple from their meeting in 1967, through their tempestuous marriage in 1990 to their coping with their grown-up children today. It pulls no punches where it comes to exposing the relationships bare and there are uncomfortable moments where the desperate needs of some individuals get annihilated by stronger characters.
Although it’s a play of three acts, it’s also a “play of two halves” to use footballing parlance, as both Mrs Chrisparkle and I found the first act somewhat underwhelming but the second and third acts riveting. Actually Mrs C described the first act as “a right turn-off”. This shows how Kenneth and Sandra got together, him downright pinching her from under his brother’s nose, and her being a willing pinchee. I thought Lisa Jackson as Sandra was particularly good in this scene, playing a most convincing posh 60s pothead. Looking like a young Tracey Emin, she strongly suggested all the freedom offered by the trendy lifestyle, and oozed a coy promiscuity by her body language and behaviour whilst also depicting the selfishness of the privileged young. The act certainly brightened up when she arrived on stage.
This scene also includes an excellent performance by Simon Darwen as Henry, Kenneth’s older brother who is hoping to score with Sandra but clearly hasn’t got a hope. Preferring classical music and disapproving of drugs because they’re “not legal”, I identified with some of the more staid aspects of his character and I felt he captured the doomed expectation that his brother would steal the girl away from him extremely well.
But here’s the first act problem for me – well two problems. Firstly, it’s slow and seems to get unnecessarily bogged down with trivia in comparison with the tight, not-a-word-wasted speeches of the other acts. It’s almost as though there were two writers. The relative quietness of the first five minutes is a stark contrast with the overwhelming sense of confrontation that pervades every aspect of the rest of the play. The other problem is that, unfortunately, I didn’t really believe in the portrayal of the young Kenneth by Ben Addis. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the actor or the writer, but I just could not see this slob, lounging around in a decadent dressing gown like a Slumdog Noel Coward, as having the magnetism required to “get the girl”. When I was a student I knew a guy who would always attempt to sleep with other guys’ girlfriends simply because he knew he could, and normally he did. But this young Kenneth really didn’t have that impact. However, as Kenneth in 1990 and 2011, Ben Addis was completely believable and gave a really top performance; although it’s stretching the imagination that by 2011 Kenneth was still playing his old record-player and hadn’t have gone out and bought all his favourite 60s music on CD, indeed if not having it all mp3’d wirelessly throughout his luxury pad.
Without giving away the rest of the story, Kenneth and Sandra get married, work hard, have two kids, and the rest of the play shows the journey (Yes! The “J” word!) that their self-obsessed relationship takes and the effect it has on their children, both as teenagers and adults. I commend the great performances from Rosie Wyatt as Rose and James Barrett as Jamie. Possibly the 1990 Rose was a little too like Catherine Tate’s Lauren for that age, but then I’ve never had a 16 year old daughter, so what do I know. Her 2011 parental demands pull everyone up sharp but are totally within character. There’s also a great little scene between father and 14 year old son where they smoke together and find a mutual ground in admiring one another. Throughout the play smoking is a common theme – it seems to be that if you’re smoking together, you’re on the same wavelength.
At the second interval, Mrs C and I decided that, given their upbringing and parenting, we thought the children in 2011 would have done pretty well for themselves and would be able to meet head-on the demands of daily life. You’ll have to see the play yourself to judge how accurate we were. Suffice to say the change of character in Jamie in particular was stunning to watch.
The whole question of coping with one’s parents or one’s children will always be one of life’s major themes. Some people manage it well, others don’t. The dilemma facing Kenneth and Sandra on the one hand, and Rose on the other is really well conceived and written. At times I agreed with one side, then I agreed with the other. I still don’t quite know who was right and who was wrong. It’s a play that keeps you thinking long past curtain down. I’m currently siding with the parents but I’m aware it makes me look like a heartless bastard.
I’ve read a comment online today from someone who attended the same performance and who described it as being “one of the worst things I have seen” at the Royal. Personally I think that’s way off the mark. It’s a challenging play and largely extremely well performed. The slow start is definitely to its detriment but it improves no end afterwards. No matter what, it’s great that Paines Plough continue to tour with innovative new work. Not everyone’s a Chekhov, but there’s still plenty here to get your teeth into.