By Adam Hope
Love, Love, Love might be better titled ‘Superficial, Comic, Moralising.’ Mike Bartlett’s 2010 take on the post-war generation doesn’t lack for witty one-liners and punchlines but fails to give any nuance to a well-trodden topic.
It may be because the subject has been done to death lately, but when Rose (Emma Broadhurst) – daughter of baby boomers Kenneth (Bróccán Tyzack-Carlin) and Sandra (Florence Petrie) – began to give a speech on how it was her parents’ fault she had nothing much to show for her life after twenty years of faffing about with a violin, I was bored. Yes, Sandra might have neglected her children for a career, and Ken could well have voted for Thatcher, but I just didn’t care. Perhaps in 2010 this seemed fresh, but seven years on it’s going to take something subtler than ‘London rent is expensive and it’s your fault, dad’ to generate interest in the perennial slanging match between parents and offspring.
It says something that I enjoyed watching the truly terrible parenting by Ken and Sandra that led to Rose’s rant, so natural was the chemistry between Tyzack-Carlin and Petrie. Perhaps too natural, as when faced with a punchline Tyzack-Carlin more than once threatened to break character. Sandra’s outrageously blunt parenting was a joy to watch, while Tyzack-Carlin brought his usual range of facial expressions to the fore when reacting to it. It is this middle section of the play, with insults flying and more left unsaid than said, which is most satisfying. Broadhurst and Rosie Minnit as Jamie make excellent teenagers, the latter’s physical comedy really enhancing Jamie’s character. I am almost tempted to say Bartlett should have written this scene and left it at that, for it makes perfect sense as a standalone piece.
Unfortunately, he did not, and the play is split into three scenes, set in 1967, 1990, and 2011. 1967 suffers from a rather long opening in which Ken engages in low-level banter with elder brother Henry (Charlie Hyde), which is fortunately relieved by the arrival of Sandra. From here we are led through a garden of hippy tropes – weed is mentioned many, many times – which is fun if not particularly inspired on the part of Bartlett. Tyzack-Carlin and Petrie cope well with the snappy dialogue, though Hyde sometimes struggles to keep up.
At the end of 1967, the first of two intervals takes place. While this is necessary for the changing of scenery, these intervals are altogether too long, affecting the pacing of the production. Taken as a whole, the production was polished, and scene changes were smooth. However, the dialogue was at times static, betraying the fact that this was a first night performance; at several moments, actors seemed to pause less for dramatic effect, and more to give them time to remember their next line. These issues will likely be ironed out by the next performance, allowing the actors to improve the energy and pacing of what is overall a well-managed production.
So to 2011, the location of Rose’s speech, which I assume is meant to be received as some great denouncement of a reckless generation, but which comes off as rather whining. This is no fault of Broadhurst, who ably manages the transition between angst-ridden teenager and 36-year-old damp squib. The subsequent rebuttal by Petrie is just as laboured, for all her efforts to enliven it. The third act really is the worst part of the play, a collection of slapped-together clichés from someone who seems to have read the Wikipedia article on the 1960s and perhaps half a Guardian article on house prices. The carelessness of the play’s ending can be seen in a casual reference to the funeral of uncle Henry, who hasn’t been seen since he stormed offstage back in 1969. It would have been interesting to see the parallels between the hedonistic Ken and Sandra and a more conservative member of their generation.
Love, Love, Love is not a bad play. It combines comedy with a very obvious message in an appealing way. But it is not the ground-breaking exposé of the failures of the free love generation that it wants to be, which is a shame.
‘Love, Love, Love’ will be performed in The Assembly Rooms Theatre from Thursday, 27th April until Saturday 29th April at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Pitch Productions