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The Theatreguide.London Review

Lyric Hammersmith Theatre     Summer 2008

This new musical from Iceland is sweet, well-intentioned and totally out of its league, even by undemanding Fringe standards.

Although a professional production, it has the feel and limited appeal of amateur community theatre, and it is only on that very very modest level of expectation that I could recommend it.

The play is set in a care home for the elderly, in which a relatively well woman is begrudgingly placed temporarily to recover from a minor accident, only to instantly fall in love with one of the more charming inhabitants, much to the shock and horror of her adult son.

What could be a sweet little tale with a valuable message about senior sexuality is presented so over-simplistically in this script 'created' by Gisli Orn Gardarsson and Vikingur Kristjansson and adapted by David Farr that almost nothing about the central story rings true.

The woman appears never to have had an evening of dinner, theatre and dancing in her life, the man proves too conveniently and predictably not to be quite as healthy as he seemed, and the son is driven to near apoplexy by the very thought of his mother having any hint of a social life (not to mention a sex life).

And yet the play almost accidentally does make its points, because surrounding the clumsy central story are several quiet testimonials to love among the elderly.

One husband remains touchingly devoted to his Alzheimer's victim wife while a cynical woman is gradually won over by the persistence of a modest wooer. Even the dragon of a nurse is glimpsed treating a particularly troublesome Alzheimer's man with special tenderness.

These almost subliminal moments are more real and more moving than the plot that takes up most of our attention.

The cast includes such veteran actors as Anna Calder-Marshall as the newcomer, Julian Curry as her swain, Jeffry Wickham as the devoted husband and Maria Charles as the cynic, but I doubt if many of them will be featuring this show prominently in their CVs in the future.

For one thing, director Gisli Orn Gardarsson has chosen - deliberately, it would appear, though I can't guess why - such a languid, rhythmless staging and pacing that everyone constantly looks lost onstage, as if not sure of their cues or where they're supposed to stand.

For another, this is a musical, and - as fine actors as they are - none of them, with the partial exception of Wickham, can sing a note.

Some try to sing, with embarrassing results; some speak-sing in the Henry Higgins manner, a little more successfully; and some give up and just recite the lyrics unmusically, with the inevitable awkwardness that produces.

The songs are a jumble of pop standards ranging from 'Let Me Entertain You' through 'Stuck In The Middle With You' to 'Ground Control To Major Tom,' sometimes at length, sometimes just sampled. Some have plot or mood appropriateness, some are used ironically, some seem just random.

Only very rarely, as when 'Ground Control' refers to a mental patient, do they significantly enrich a moment.

The other inhabitants of the home are played by amateurs drawn from singing clubs and classes around London. In addition to occasionally bursting into 'My Old Man Said Follow The Van' and similar singalong numbers, they play minor acting parts, and it is an indictment of the professionals - or, rather, of the way they have been directed that the amateurs do not bring down the level of performance at all.

The people sitting behind me were friends of one of the amateurs and were delighted to discover that she could not only sing but act her brief scene successfully. And I'm afraid that they represent the audience most likely to be satisfied by this show.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Love - Lyric Hammersmith 2008


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