The Half Life of Love conjures up images of a radioactive passion and a yearning that poisons the victim long after the initial source has vanished. Gail Louw’s play has much in common with this toxic substance, a thorny rose that digs in and leaves its wound upon the flesh. Alex (Paul Moriarty) is such a victim of lost love – late 50s, he sits alone in his apartment, wine and music, with books splayed around him like a wall he has built to try and keep the world out. That is until another victim of the lethal substance turns up at his door; Connor (Laurence Bown) is seventeen now but still carries the taint of his adopted father Eamonn (Jack Klaff), a weight on his shoulders that has subjugated him for all those years. Alex apparently escaped this five years previously, removing himself from Eamonn’s death grip and abandoning the adopted children, Connor and Finn to suffer alone.
Martin Dickinson directs a series of conversations and dialogues between three characters filled with painful memories and equally painful encounters. Moriarty and Bown have an awkward initial chemistry. Stunted exchanges and speaking over one another are indicative of a long time spent apart. Whether it be nerves or intentional, the scene presents itself as uncomfortable to watch. But as they start to re-connect, a joke slips in to conversation, nostalgia resurfaces and the tension is broken. As the actors get to know each other again, they reminisce in a way that long lost relatives might. But this is a slow build, a bubbling that only begins to pick up steam towards the end of their first meeting.
There is the initial worry that Louw writes Connor to be a stereotypical lad; a wannabe alpha male that seems disgusted and ashamed by his adopted parents’ homosexual relationship. But as the layers are slowly peeled away, the exposed truth emerges – gay or straight, Alex ran away from an abusive relationship and left Connor with no moral role model. Moriarty plays Alex as the wounded victim, surprised at seeing Connor again and not entirely comfortable at having to face up to all that he ran from.
If the first half is slow going, the second half overcompensates in its speed of delivery. Klaff is the star performance; as Eamonn he is softly spoken yet intrinsically insipid, calculating and cold even though he professes to regret his violent past actions. Within minutes he manipulates the malleable Alex, who is only too willing to be taken back despite his initial reticence. Moriarty and Klaff have excellent chemistry on stage, suggesting that experience is the most valuable asset in an actor’s arsenal.
“The half-life of love is forever”. Inspirational words from professor/ writer Junot Díaz and obviously ones that struck a chord in Gail Louw when writing this play. It certainly sinks its teeth into the characters here – they try to run from it but simply end up back in its grasp, forever contaminated.
The Half Life of Love plays at The Rialto Theatre until 20 May 2016 as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. For more information, see Brighton Fringe Website.