Review – Love Love Love – Palace Theatre Watford

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I may be terrible at remembering the names of directors and actors (especially those people on television) but I am very loyal to writers who produce good works for the stage. I have a list of “see everything by” that includes Ibsen, Pinter … and Mike Bartlett. His play Cock blew me away and was without reserve the best play I saw in 2009, convincing me he had a powerful insight into the strange convolutions of the human mind and a craftsman’s love for creating dialogue that sounded like real people talking. Earthquakes didn’t bring me entirely down to ground (I can’t expect a living playwright to have already had the dross culled from the folio), but the deliciously evil, dystopic Contractions had me again.

Thus, wonders of wonders, I, the nine to five girl who will have her eight hours of sleep, agreed, no, chose on her own, to trek across London into the veritable hinterlands, to Watford, on a school night, so that I could see a new(ish) play by this genius among men. Watford. It was only there for four performances, I was gone for two, so Wednesday night it was, and Tim Watson gamely agreed to accompany me (he even knew where the theater is). And looking at the schedule of the other performances for this tour, by “Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth,” Watford was in fact the only even slightly possible city besides Oxford I could see it at. It turns out this company has a “thing” for not doing shows in London, which I found rather ironic (and snobby) considering that much of the play talks about how you just have to live in London if you’re going to have any kind of exciting life (and later on about how if you life in London you basically can’t afford to have a life, period). But, you know, these people don’t care if I get my Mike Bartlett fix or not, so I found my way to the Palace Theater for a 7:45 show (and opening night of the run).

Love, Love, Love runs us through forty years of history and… gosh, I don’t really want to give anything away because so much of my enjoyment was about never having a clue about what the curtain was going to rise on as each of the three acts begin, so I’m going to have to be really careful here. It starts in Swinging London with two brothers from a dull town somewhere else both making a go of life in the big city. Only, really, only one of them is trying; the other is his layabout brother Kenneth (Ben Addis) who does a fantastic job of establishing character as he falls off of a couch attempting to get a glass of whiskey with the minimum amount of exertion. Act two is set in an upper-middle class family’s home in 1990, and introduces two fascinating characters; a fourteen year old boy Jamie, who’s crazy about Stone Roses (James Barrett), and his sixteen year old sister Rose (Rosie Wyatt). They have an extraodinarily naturalistic teenaged brother and sister dynamic going on, and I loved seeing how they dealt with the frustrations to their lives caused by their parents and each other.

Various of the characters travel through time as the scenes change, but I found myself distracted by the lack of attempt at making them up to age: characters from the first scene basically remain eternally young. I think this was a deliberate choice (should have picked up the script but a friend confirmed this was how it was the first time around), as it could be seen as nicely symbolizing the “love” generation’s failure to grow up; but I was confused when parents and children appeared to be more or less the same age. This was especially a problem for Lisa Jackson; her mannerisms simply didn’t evolve in a way that was suggestive of age at all; instead, I found her acting more and more like (a young) Katherine Hepburn as she was supposed to be actually older. Grr.

The play manages to make a political point, that the children of the seventies are basically selfishly sucking up all of the money that could be making the lives of their children better, but I found it easy enough to absorb as partially just the point of one character (likely representing the playwright’s point of view) and not as “THIS IS HOW THINGS ARE WE MUST RISE UP IN REVOLT.” As a message, I didn’t find it grating like Earthquakes was because it was framed very much in the context of telling a story and building up character. Instead of leaving me feeling preached at and used, this jibe served as a sort of glossy icing on top of the cake of the story. I found it something that I could ignore in pursuit of coming up with my own answers to the question, “Why does the modern generation seem to have so much less than their parents did?” It just seems to simple to pawn it off as the fault of selfish hedonists of the late sixties but it was fun to have some real ideas to chew on after the show was over.

However, this is not what makes a good night at the theataer. I was very engaged by the story of one family and how they wound up, through their idiocy and bad decisions and horrible parenting, just utterly and completely screwing their kids. It was very believable, if depressing, and the fights that Rosie has with her parents seemed completely realistic, as did the various not very healthy coping strategies she developed to handle their shortcomings. In fact, message or not, I found myself just really caught up in the drama between the four people who ended up together in the final scene. Really, would any of them ever get their lives together, and would any of them ever have the ability to have any kind of meaningful love and connection in their lives? It seemed so sad that only the people who loved, basically, themselves would wind up happy; but to me, this seems quite a truthful ending for Bartlett to choose. The “good guys” don’t necessarily wind up happy, just like in real life, and that, for me, made for a damned good night at the theater.

(Running time was 2:25 including interval. This review was for a performance that took place at the Watford Palace on March 16th, 2011. Love Love Love continues on tour through June 11th at the Curve, Leicester; the Live Theatre in Newcastle; the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough; West Yorkshire Playhouse; the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich; the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton; the Liverpool Playhouse; the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow; the Hull Truck Theatre; the Royal & Derngate, Northampton; and finally, the Oxford Playhouse. For an alternate review, please see What’s On Stage.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Love Love Love – Palace Theatre Watford”

  1. Rosie Says:

    I’m glad you made it out of London to Watford! I did a lot of drama summer schools at Watford Palace Theatre as a stage-struck teenager – it does a great job of keeping going and bringing good shows to the town.

    I get the impression that it’s difficult for a lot of towns and cities in Hertfordshire to nurture the arts locally – London’s so close by and easy to get to that many people think nothing of making the journey in to the capital to see productions. I don’t know if the recession, and rising train fares, may make a difference…

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the show!

  2. Paines Plough Blog » Blog Archive » Do all roads lead to London? Says:

    […] a blog review of LOVE, LOVE, LOVE last week it was reported that we “have a thing for not doing plays in London” which […]

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