The title of Elinor Cook’s latest play, with its double-meaning akin to Enduring Love, signifies a play that cruxes on duality. Best friends Lorna and Grace are two sides of a coin, doing things out of love for each other and falling out of love with each other. Spanning a good thirty year period, Out of Love the peculiar and specific platonic love that exists between two best friends, and how this bends, breaks, and repairs over time.
Lorna and Grace’s successes and failures mirror each other throughout their lives. Cook’s writing draws two very whole and well-developed characters, whose stories revolve around one another as they grow together, distant and apart, and together again. James Grieve’s direction is assured, controlled, and doesn’t clutter the writing, allowing it to breathe.
This allows for the central performances – confident, well-realised, full-bodied portrayals of the show’s protagonists by Sally Messham and Katie Elin-Salt – to shine. Messham and Elin-Salt are the pillars on which Out of Love’s merits rest; they breathe life into entirely believable and complicated characters, their characters consistent during jumps in time while simultaneously communicating their age differences.
So far so good, but overall the show feels as if it’s holding back. Out of Love is just a little too tame. Cook’s track record has proven her a brilliant writer, and yet here the writing feels safe, as if it never quite gets up to speed. Even the form – each scene a jigsaw piece from the show’s timeline, eventually coming together to form a coherent form – feels too easy to follow to be daring, too neatly concluded. Occasionally, this neatness bleeds into character: for a play that relies on naturalism, it feels too crafted for the girls to mirror each other so distinctly, the extremities of their flaws polarised against each other.
For all the assuredness of the writing, direction, and performances, Out of Love feels a little as if it’s stuck in third gear, and could do with a little more oomph. Perhaps this is due to the structure – the non-linear plot adds intrigue to the story, but also occasionally allows suspense to drop. Once it gets into its stride – a little too late – it’s a beautiful story following the love between two women, particularly, as the plot progresses, moving, delicate, and true.