Love, Love, Love. Paines Plough and Drum Theatre Plymouth at the Stephen Joseph Theatre Scarborough. 2-4-11

Mike Bartlett’s play Love, Love, Love is a traditional three act play, with living rooms and set changes. It is a welcome surprise to find that a modern award winning playwright is still interested in writing a play like it. The time span is wide, starting with the beginning of a relationship in 1967 when Kenneth carelessly steals his straight laced friend’s girlfriend Sandra, going on to the day that the resulting relationship implodes in 1990, and finally examining the long term damage caused by the selfishness of the couple, particularly to their children in the present day. It is a merciless examination of the selfishness of the baby boomer generation and its consequences and nobody escapes blame. Yes, the parents have been lucky to be born when they were, and yes the two we are shown have certainly been selfish and self indulgent, but at some point each person has to take responsibility for their own life and their children can’t escape that fact. I really enjoyed seeing a play that sets out an argument without hectoring the audience or losing sight of the fact that its characters also need to be real and believable. There is some blistering dialogue, particularly in the very fine second act, which is fast and naturalistic and makes considerable demands on the actors. It shows us very clearly the kind of cruelty that people who know each other only too well can indulge in when a relationship goes sour, and how this can destroy the lives of children who are innocent bystanders.

Dialogue as good as this is a gift for actors, so long as they are up to it, and this is a very good cast indeed who rise to the occasion with great panache. The central couple, Kenneth and Sandra, are a fascinating pair of middle class monsters. They are a good match for each other, both wilful, self indulgent and selfish, seeming to be completely unaware of the damage that they are causing to those around them, and blind to the needs of their children. They will survive, their kind always do, but it will be at someone else’s expense. Ben Addis and Lisa Jackson have great rapport as Kenneth and Sandra and they play off each other with great speed and accuracy. They could take on the roles of George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with no trouble at all. Their daughter Rose is a trier, a good girl who wants to please, driven to extremes by the fact that her parents don’t seem to notice or care much however hard she works, or whatever she does. She is screaming out for someone to take an interest in her but nobody even bothers to remember what she is doing let alone care about it. Rosie Wyatt gives a fine performance, particularly as the sixteen year old Rose in the second act. Her younger brother Jamie is brighter and sharper than his sister. The lack of guidance and understanding from his parents leads him to opt out. He is content, in collusion with his father, to slob around and achieve little. It is a waste of a life, and you wouldn’t want to see the results of his behaviour when he reaches middle age. James Barrett does a good job and makes the most of a part where he is not given quite so much to work with as the other characters. A lot has to go unsaid.

It’s not often that a back stage team gets a mention but having watched them do two complete set changes, including flats, in front of an audience I feel the need to give them a pat on the back. They were slick and efficient and didn’t waste a moment, and that mattered.

This play deserved a bigger audience for the matinee here in Scarborough. When writing and acting this good come together it reminds me why I keep coming to the theatre. I am very pleased that Paines Plough and the Drum Theatre Plymouth are alive and well and able to send theatre of this quality all the way up north.

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