John Heffernan, Daniela Denby-Ashe, James Barrett, Rosie Wyatt, Simon Darwen
Mike Bartlett has quickly been making a name for himself as one of the most promising playwrights of his generation. Last year's acclaimed Cock won an Oliver Award, and his recent Earthquakes In London opened to near universal acclaim.|
Love, Love, Love only seems likely to further enhance his reputation. Telling the tale of a couple who meet in the '60s, we follow their life in three acts: firstly at that initial meeting in 1967, then through middle age in 1990, and finally as comfortably off retirees in the present day.
We first meet Kenneth (played by John Heffernan, looking for all the world like a bearded David Tennant), a louche Oxbridge stoner who lives with his polar opposite of a brother, Henry. When Henry brings home his new girlfriend Sandra, there's an immediate attraction between the two.
The second act introduces the couple's children as teenagers, and it's here that Love, Love, Love takes a darker, more bleak, turn. It's a brilliantly written piece of work, exploring how the older generation has failed their children and left them in an economic mess. Given these recession-hit times, with spending cuts looming large everywhere, it's topical and very thought provoking.
Portraying the same characters through different ages is a tricky act to pull off (especially without the time for make-up to work its magic), yet all four main players do so quite brilliantly. Although they don't look any different, the cast manage to replicate the mannerisms and body language of their characters through the generations perfectly.
Daniela Denby-Ashe, perhaps still best known for her roles in Eastenders and My Family, demonstrates her considerable acting chops here - she's equally convincing whether it be playing Sandra as a naive teenager, a jaded middle-aged mother or as an OAP. Heffernan too is a star in the making, effortlessly charismatic despite the fact that, underneath the laidback charm, his character is pretty weak, meek and selfish.
James Barrett and Rosie Wyatt also offer fine support as the couple's damaged children - although Barrett has the more showy role of the son suddenly driven into autistic behaviour, Wyatt also perfectly portrays the disappointment and disillusionment of someone in their late 30s who thinks they've wasted their life.
Although often dramatic (there's more than a few Pinter-esque pauses here and several shouting matches and slamming of doors), Bartlett's script can also be uproariously funny. Never has the four words "we live in Reading" (delivered with perfect deadpan disappointment by Heffernan) been greeted with so many chuckles, and the relationship between the two brothers demonstrated in the first act is often hilariously written.
The third act, set in the present day, is likely to resonate most strongly with younger members of the audience, as Kenneth and Sandra's selfish behaviour in the past comes home to roost. Wyatt's cry of "buy me a house", uttered with almost ferocious resentment towards her parents as she desperately searches for a way to get her life back on track, is almost heart-breaking.
A special word should also be given to Lucy Osborne's set design as it nails the period detail perfectly. The '60s flat in the first act is is immaculately retro, even down to the cereal packages littering the floor, while there's a genuine 1990 edition of Q Magazine on show during the second act. The music too, from Cream and The Beatles to The Stone Roses, is perfectly chosen and the whole play is pacily directed by James Grieve.
It's a shame that Love, Love, Love has a relatively short tour, for this deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. The sort of play that stays with you for days, maybe weeks, afterwards, this is yet another startling achievement by Mike Bartlett.