Julian Eaves reviews Love, Love, Love by Mike Bartlett currently playing at the Lyric Hammersmith London directed by Rachel O’Riordan.
Love, Love, Love
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith,
11th March 2020
What a magnificent, West End-quality hit! Rachel O’Riordan’s masterful production of Mike Bartlett’s scenes from middle-class life is a handsome, sharp-witted, emotionally complex and morally ambivalent portrait of the nation. It features a stand-out, barn-storming turn from Rachel Stirling that alone is likely to ensure tickets for this show will very soon be hard to come by.
Effectively, this is a well-made three-act play in the best English tradition. Bartlett, though, takes this well-used form into new territory in his tale of Sandra (Stirling) and Henry (Patrick Knowles), following them through three defining phases of their romantic involvement. In the first act, set in 1967, first love blossoms in a dingy flat with a chance meeting of the 19-year old Sandra and the student brother of her date, Nicholas Burns’ sullen and rather chippily working-class Kenneth. She is a breath of Sixties fresh air blasted into their crampt living room where the lads swap abrupt, Pinteresque dialogue. Framed in Joanna Scotcher’s fabulous curvy Sixties TV-set frame, this could be any ‘Play For Today’.
Then, the second act propels us into the scrubbed Thatcherite comfort of a pastel orange and green Reception 1 in suburban Reading, where two raucous schoolkids, Year 10 Jamie (a spot-on Mike Noble) and preternaturally sullen Rose (smouldering Isabella Laughland), squabble and bitch. Henry is nominally the lord of this manor, but empress of all is without any question the stunningly power-dressed, up- and back-swept Sandra in a creamy trouser-suit. This is where the play really hits its individualistic stride, focussing on the twin bourgeois obsessions of infidelity and children, with Scotcher setting it all inside a 1990 TV set frame.
After the comedic hi-jinks of the middle act, things take a more sombre and dramatic turn in the play’s final episode, where love of another sort rears its head. Tough love. For this, the stage widens and flattens to take the form of the ubiquitous smartphone, because we now find ourselves in 2011. Here, the yawning gulf between the generations has never seemed more impossible to bridge. It is also where the script switches most violently between riotous comedy and misery, set against the icy, empty, palatial vacuity of the affluent and retired, and showing Bartlett to be just as good at mystery and suspense.
With a thumping sound-track by Simon Slater, and lit with panache by Paul Keogan, this entire production screams out loud that O’Riordan is taking the Lyric, Hammersmith into even classier territory than it has hitherto occupied. Love it!
Photos: Helen Maybanks