Mark Ludmon reviews Time is Love by writer/director Ché Walker now playing at the Finborough Theatre.
Time is Love / Tiempo Es Amor
Finborough Theatre, London
In publicity, writer and director Ché Walker has described his latest work, Time Is Love / Tiempo Es Amor, as inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello and the question, “What if Desdemona was guilty?” But it is much more than that. After premiering in Los Angeles last year, this tale of love and betrayal in the city’s underworld has arrived at the Finborough for its European premiere. Set explicitly in 2019, it focuses on the relationship between Blaz, a petty criminal who has just spent three years in prison, and his long-time girlfriend, Havana, who, unlike Desdemona, has been less than faithful in his absence. At the same time, Blaz is trying to reconcile the brotherly love between himself and his best friend, Karl, who fearfully fled the scene of the crime that led to Blaz’s arrest.
Living on low incomes in a world of guns and knives, the characters are already facing up to their mortality and growing older. References to their shared childhoods suggest lost potential and innocence destroyed by their environment and their bad decisions. As part of a series of dichotomies led by love and betrayal, Walker sets up a recurring motif of deep meaningful love compared with more physical, sensual attraction. The play’s language and imagery infuse this urban world with spirituality through references to sin, confession and transformation but this contrasts strikingly with the godless war zone they live in.
Drawing on research and his own experience living in Los Angeles, Walker has gone beyond simple cyphers to depict Latino lives, creating rounded characters driven by the need for love. At times, the direction feels stilted, momentarily losing momentum between scenes, but it succeeds thanks to some excellent performances, its poetic language and an atmospheric musical soundscape composed by Sheila Atim.
In a stand-out performance, Atim also plays Rosa, a lap-dancer struggling with her own loss and need for love. Sasha Frost also shines as Serena, a hard-nosed sex worker whose warmth and guileless honesty are revealed once she whips off her wig. With understated simplicity, Jessica Ledon reprises the role of Havana which she created in LA, alongside Gabriel Akuwudike and Benjamin Cawley who bring a vulnerable masculinity to Blaz and Karl. Cary Crankson is charismatic as Seamus, a predatory police officer driven by his own sensual desires.
There is added physicality in the use of movement, choreographed by Jonny Vieco, reflecting the characters’ need for sensual passion. The action is complemented by Chai Rolfe’s video, which regularly offers a filmed version of what is happening on stage but a few seconds in advance, suggesting an irresistible inevitability to what is happening. Walker’s rugged, often lyrical language is occasionally interspersed with passages in Spanish, usually when passions are running high. While much of it is beyond my colloquial European Spanish, it emphasises that this is a drama that explores amor and pasión beyond words alone.
Running to 26 January 2019