I’ve always felt that London is at its most romantic in the latter part of the year, at dusk, with the rain pelting down and the lights strung along the Thames twinkling warmly. Both the city and the season thus prove an ideal setting for this gentle promenade piece, which explores the very heart of London and those of its inhabitants.
Lovers Walk tells the story of Matt and Rosie’s romance by taking us on a guided tour of their relationship, from the bench where they shared their first kiss, to the hot air vents where they huddled to shelter from a storm. They are your typical twenty-something Londoners – affable, with a preference for watching DVDs rather than partying and a desire to give their kids stupid names, but utterly likeable nonetheless. They are perfect for one another, if only they can manage to not mess it up! Although we are only treated to the edited highlights of their relationship, both the script and the performances feel completely believable, and their initial awkwardness, blind affection and subsequent bickering are true to life (at times a little uncomfortably so).
At first the promenade setting runs the risk of being slightly repetitive – we follow, are herded across roads like school children, stand around in a semi-circle while the actors address us, then follow some more. All the while we long for Matt and Rosie to hold hands or steal a kiss, so that it feels more like we are following a couple of lovers on their walk, rather than just being led around by two tour guides. It starts to get more interesting when the formula is shaken up in the latter half of the performance, and the actors disappear and reappear, like faces do in a bustling city. You feel glad when you spot them again in the distance, just like how your heart leaps when you see the face of your own beloved in a crowd.
Successful site-specific theatre is responsive to the location, treating it like a living, breathing entity – another character – rather than as a static set to be worked around, as you would in the traditional theatre. Unfortunately, some golden opportunities to respond to the sights and sounds of London Bridge, Southwark Cathedral and the Thames Walk were lost in this performance. The passing of a flock of lycra-clad joggers would have been the perfect occasion for Rosie to deliver her own speech about taking up running; however, instead, we were ushered to the pre-determined quiet corner to be told the tale, and so this unscripted opportunity to allow life and art to collide for one poetic moment was sadly lost. Although it is polished and enjoyable, just a little more flexibility and confidence from the actors in responding to their surroundings rather than sticking so rigidly to the rehearsed route would transform this pleasant walk along the river into a much more dynamic experience.
By the end the rain is thundering down and the wind howls cruelly along the river and through the subways. In another of those unforeseen coincidences that can make site-specific theatre thrilling, the turn in the weather is perfectly appropriate for the direction Matt and Rosie’s relationship has taken. Yet, to the actors’ credit, the audience are not thinking about their wet feet or bedraggled hair, because we are completely absorbed in these two people’s lives, the love they have for one another, and the desire to see them live those lives as one, happily, in the city that brought them together in the first place.
HighHearted Theatre’s Lovers Walk runs at Southwark Playhouse until October 3rd 2010, with tickets available for £10.