Love, Love, Love sees Rachel O’Riordan return to the helm to direct her second production since joining as artistic director of the Lyric Hammersmith last year. It also acts as the revival of Mark Bartlett’s retrospective comedy to the London stage following its original performance at the Royal Court back in 2010.
The play follows Sandra and Kenneth through three contrasting decades of their life, across three compact and fast paced acts; starting in 1967 we see the couple meet, swiftly into 1990 the pair have grown and so have the challenges of life, and finally landing on more familiar ground in 2011 bringing with it a new direction for the pair. This three-act format really allows the audience a doorway into the play, capturing the vibe of each era so that you can find a connection to the play no matter when you were born. Your attitude toward the generational, social or political aspects of each time period will give you a completely different view of the show than those you share the audience with.
What I find most interesting about this production is it’s lack of care for the characters, they are not portrayed as anything ethereal or even likable, they are shown bare, warts and all – it paints a very vivid picture of a certain view of the generation and of society as a whole and how that in turn influenced the generations which followed. I do however struggle with how this makes it exceptionally hard to really sympathise with any of these characters. There is nothing endearing about the couple, not even the love that they claim to have for one another.
The shows saving grace, however, was Bartlett’s fantastically witty dialogue. O’Riordan’s direction allowed the actors to navigate the ebb and flow of the text with complete spontaneity, every moment hit perfectly, and the flow and pace of the dialogue was superb. Music acts as a prologue and epilogue to each scene and helps transform the auditorium, whilst the cast worked well to adapt as their characters age throughout the performance.
The cast was wonderfully led by Nicholas Burns, delivering a seamless performance as Kenneth, and Isabella Laughland was stunning to watch, capturing the most truthful performance of the evening as well as blending well with the overall feel of the show in her mannerisms and vocal strength. I did feel that Rachael Stirling’s performance as Sandra (whilst perfectly on point and grounded) felt as if it was in a completely different production, far more heightened that that of the rest of the ensemble, nevertheless, still fantastically enjoyable to watch.
Tying the show together beautifully is design by Joanna Scotcher, the first two scenes are framed with an extended proscenium arch which gives the effect that we are watching some relic of the past. The sets are dressed with an amazing eye for detail, always juxtaposing what has come before, and the costume, which in itself lends to the comedy of the show given the ever changing and returning trends of fashion, works as a fantastic aid for the actors in their physical movements as time changes.
Having seen the original production at the Royal Court, I felt that this time around we have lost some of the connection between Kenneth and Sandra, to me they were perfect together even through their strife. I would have liked more of a sense of enduring, unconditional love from Burns and Sterling’s portrayal of them, and for me that was a real shame. Overall, I think this is a wonderful production, deliberately flawed by the playwright in an incredibly interesting way, and unique to everyone who watches it.
Love, Love, Love is playing Lyric Hammersmith until 4 April. For more information and tickets, see the Lyric Hammersmith website.