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The Theatreguide.London Review

Love, Love, Love
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 much better.

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 steals her.

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 is intended.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Love Love Love - Lyric Hammersmith Theatre 2020

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