Love, Love, Love – New Wolsey Theatre

Is love all we need? The Beatles would have us believe so but can love also be a destructive force? In Mike Bartlett’s epic Love, Love, Love, we get an panoramic vista at one couple’s relationship across 40 years.

Here the course of true love certainly doesn’t run smooth. In 1967, 19-year-old Sandra is on a first date with Henry but ends up romantically entangled with his hipper brother, Ken, instead. It’s a fragile start to a relationship fuelled by drink and drugs and one that, on first glance, seems likely to end as a one night stand. Surprisingly, then, we find that 23 years later the couple are not only married but have two children.

Love, though, has descended into hatred and as Sandra turns increasingly to drink to cope with life there is little chance that daughter Rosie’s 16th birthday will pass smoothly.

As bombshells drop it’s clear that the children are mere ammunition in the couple’s battles and, as time passes, a further 21 years we see the impact this corrosive lifestyle has taken on their children.

Bartlett’s script pulls no punches; his narrative is packed with lines dripping with acid. Characters use verbal spars to score points and inflict as much damage as they can. Partners, family, children – all are fair game for a verbal attack. This unrelenting machine gunning could easily turn into a depressing evening but Bartlett carefully balances the pain with just the right amount of dry, dark humour.

In many ways, despite the subject matter, this is a highly traditional drawing room drama. Director James Grieve makes good use of Lucy Osborne’s three distinctive sets to convey a world teetering on the edge of total destruction but somehow just clinging on to the last thread of familial cohesion.

While it’s difficult to emotionally care for what turns out to be a group of thoroughly unlikeable and self serving characters, the cast revel in the opportunities these richly drawn figures provide.

Strong central performances from Ben Addis and Lisa Jackson as the warring couple work well, as does Rosie Wyatt’s Rose, emotionally scared by her upbringing but also calculating enough to try and use that guilt to her own advantage.

The strong language and content may not be to everyone’s taste but Love, Love, Love is a gripping and well crafted look at the realities of life, warts and all.

Once again Paines Plough demonstrates that they are not afraid to bring quality, challenging drama to regional audiences and, in Love, Love, Love, Mike Bartlett confirms his place as one of the country’s most exciting playwrights.

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