Lyric Hammersmith Theatre March 2020
This is not a good play. It
is not only poor in itself but the cause of poorness in others, generating
disappointing performances from a director and actors we know capable of
Playwright Mike Bartlett
shows us a couple in roughly 20 year intervals beginning in the Swinging
Sixties, when temporary Oxford drop-out Kenneth proves to have more in
common with his square brother's free-loving, pot-smoking date Sandra and
In 1990 the 40-ish couple are
middle class suburbanites on their way to alcoholic middle age, completely
self-absorbed and blind to their teenage children's problems.
In 2011, happily divorced and
facing comfortable retirement, but just as self-absorbed and alcohol
dependent, they can't rouse themselves to more than mild annoyance when
their adult daughter suddenly blames them for all the unhappiness and
disappointment in her life and for all the world's ills from Thatcher
through Blair and beyond.
It is not at all clear what
the play's point of view is – the central couple are despicable but in
such a trivial way that we can't work up much outrage, and they are
inexplicably rewarded with a sort of happy ending – or, indeed, what tone
The first act plays like
sub-Neil Simon, with paper-thin characters exchanging one-liners, while
the second reaches unsuccessfully for Ayckbourn-like exposure of pathos
beneath the comedy, and I suppose there is a hint of Chekhov in the
daughter's descent from unhappiness to near-mad bitterness.
Meanwhile the characters move
from one caricature to another without passing through anything resembling
real human beings (The square brother disappears after the first scene,
the play having no interest in someone so ordinary and functional) or, for
that matter, themselves.
There may be a hint in the
popsy's almost manic free spirit of the brittle woman she will become, but
there is no indication that the happy university drop-out of the first
scene will become the non-entity of the later ones, or that the mildly
bratty teenage son of the second scene will be revealed to have severe
mental deficiency in the third.
Faced with a character
written as a string of clichés and stereotypes, Rachael Stirling has not
be guided by director Rachel O'Riordan to find anything human in any of
them. Nicholas Burns is successful at playing a man so devoid of
personality as to hardly be there at all, but at the cost of constantly
risking disappearing from the stage.
I kept being struck by deja
vu during the play, but it wasn't until checking my files later that I
realised it was done at the Royal Court in 2012. My old review tells me
that the 2012 production, unmemorable as it may have proven, convinced me
at the time that there were serious questions being raised about the
responsibilities of the Baby Boomer generation.
There are no such hints at meaning here. When a play is at least intermittently a comedy and the single biggest laugh comes from 'We can't be happy. We live in Reading!', and when it is at least intermittently serious and the only character to express any criticism of the selfish and trivial central couple is made to come across as even shallower and emptier, something is not working.
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Review - Love Love Love - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2020