Love is a universal theme; it knows no cultural boundaries or limitations and forms the cornerstone of any good story. So what better topic to entice aspiring playwrights? Love Bites is a project that has been running since 2008, giving new writers the opportunity to present a one-act play based on the theme of ‘Love and Relationships’. The only stipulation is that they stick to a prescribed setting. This year the location of choice is a festive cocktail party. Cocktail is perhaps the most appropriate word for the fusion of drama, emotion and comedy that swirl delicately around each other throughout the five short plays on offer here. Each deals with some form of relationships – romantic or otherwise – in some very different ways, offering a spectrum of our experiences of love.
First up was Charity Begins at Home, a sensitively crafted offering from Hannah Patterson, which reminds us that solace can be found in the unlikeliest of places. James is a sprightly young job-seeker trying to master the art of “selling” charity to passers by on the street. When he finds himself in the company of a stranger he sees it as a perfect opportunity to practise. Meanwhile, Laura knows nobody at the party and wandered in to escape being elsewhere, in the hope of finding small talk and pleasant company rather than confronting her own secret. Both characters are well played and the direction by Rosy Banham captures the awkward tenderness shown by two strangers united by their unusual situations.
Next was Down in One, written and directed by the founder of Love Bites, Ziella Bryars. It is perhaps the funniest piece of the night. Ollie is 24, fresh-faced and sure of himself. When he manages to get some alone time with the secret object of his desire Ellie (who also happens to be the best friend of his older sister) he decides to bite the bullet and turn on all his charms, despite the unusual nature of their past: “I’ve seen you running around the garden with no clothes on!” His advances are repeatedly rebuffed as he goes to greater and greater lengths to convince Ellie that she should give him a chance, culminating in him ‘acting out’ a romantic date between them before stumbling over and spilling their drinks. It’s all very charming.
Sarah and Sarah by Craig Donaghy is a bittersweet comedy with an underlying tension that explodes in unexpected ways. Sarah and Sarah are childhood friends who are now living very different lives but share a deep connection; one has ‘escaped’ her home life and dead-end future to become a PA for a big company in London, desperate to convince her colleagues that she is classy and sophisticated. The other, still defined by her small town roots and simple lifestyle, works in a bookies and lives for the weekends going clubbing with ‘the girls’. One is happy and contented with how life has worked out – the other isn’t. Their differing attitudes towards the atmosphere and company at this cocktail party provides much laugh out loud comedy but a more serious tone slowly develops, and the addition of a third desperately uncomfortable character (who reappears later as John in The Land of Dragons) brings regrets, reasoning and revelations starkly to the surface. A reminder that love and relationships go far beyond romance, a testament to true friendship and this reviewer’s favourite of the evening.
Everybody Happy by first-time playwright Edward Franklin is an examination of how friendships interplay with our romances to illustrate how even the closest of friends can be deviously deceptive. Greg has just been dumped by his girlfriend and is ready to drown his sorrows alone in pink cocktails until old friend Mark shows up and tries to lighten the mood. Edging into bromance territory, is Mark’s concern for his friend genuine? More excellent performances on offer here from two young actors that develop a great relationship on stage together. A tumultuous two hander that delivers a genuinely unexpected final blow.
Rounding off the night was The Land of Dragons written and directed by Daniel Frankenburg – and what a bang to go out on. This monologue, delivered with a comic mastery by Donal Coonan, was painfully funny and had the entire audience in gales of laughter. John is the ex of the absent Lucy, the birthday girl for whom these mismatched guests have assembled. Having crashed the party and acquainted himself with her co-workers, he feels it appropriate to deliver a ‘speech’ about the history of their relationship. Socially inept and dangerously naïve, you can’t help but be warmed by his geeky charm as he builds a picture of their far from perfect 6 year romance.
A pleasant surprise, Love Bites showcases an adept group of new writers and their grasp on the complexities of human relationships. Friends, family, lovers of past, present and future – none of them exist within a vacuum and they form a large part of how we are perceived by others. One unifying theme of the evening seems to be the idea that a relationship, in whatever context, often exists in two forms: the personal and the public. We may, like the London-bound Sarah in Sarah and Sarah, strive to keep them personal , or like John we may wish to make them more public than necessary. Either way, it is the interplay between how we really feel about somebody and how we want those feelings to be perceived that provides both humour and drama throughout Love Bites.