Fringe Online 2020
Directed by Rachel O’Riordan. Theatre Sound Design by Simon Slater, Produced by Jeremy Mortimer and Steve Bond, Additional production by Jack Howson. Sound Editing by Adam Woodhams, Production coordinator Gabriel Francis, Production Manager Sarah Kenny, Executive Producers Bertie Carvel and Joby Waldman. A Reduced Listening Production To return to BBC Radio Drama on 3, and the production returns to the Lyric Hammersmith in 2021.
Bertie Carvel’s final production for the quartet of abruptly-truncated productions reproduced on Radio 3 and 4 Drama is a revival. And one already destined for niche classic status, a journey of nearly 45 years.
Mike Bartlett’s 2011 Love, Love, Love had just opened at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre when theatres closed in March 2020. This fourth production of the Lockdown Theatre Festival captures the tang of that production on radio, using brilliant technological patchings to record its actors at home. The result’s knitted and edited by the production team also working at home.
We start in 1967. Patrick Knowles’ Henry is expecting a sophisticated free spirit to dinner – Rachael Stirling’s Sandra. But his brother Kenneth – Nicholas Burns – won’t disappear. Like Sandra he’s at Oxford and the inevitable happens. Especially as wine’s all that’s on the menu.
The second act’s set in 1990. Sandra and Kenneth consider their over-determined push of talented daughter Rose (Isabella Laughland) full of bolshie righteousness whilst Mike Noble’s hunkered-down Jamie locks in behavioural angst, only his sister can communicate with. Alcohol seems a Bartlett shorthand for derogation, particularly for Sandra.
2011. Though separated Sandra and Kenneth meeting up seems headed for boozy rapprochement whilst Rose harangues them for pushing her onto a path that brings her poverty and as she sees it, mediocrity; and Jamie’s muter than ever. Rose wants the parents to make sacrifices now.
Smoking, drinking, sexy and a bit paranoid, Kenneth and Sandra build life and family on that 60s-80s arc of increasing national prosperity, when things really only could get better. Ultimately retired with their children grown, they’re bemused: why hasn’t it all worked out the way they dreamed in a blue haze? Why are your children looking at you through a red one?
Bartlett’s play like its near contemporary Earthquakes in London charts an epoch, in fact the same one: in this work one couple’s journey 40 plus years on from free love to the second decade of the 21st century.
It’s in part an elegy for ageing baby-boomers, and their Generation X children. Like Earthquakes the Bartlett trope of tightening the trap till there’s no way out is absent, and there’s a picaresque, relaxed unfolding where characters drive collisions and no-one ends quite where they’d expect. It’s not the faded ideals of Bartlett’s 60s characters that’s up for lament: but those they pumped their children with. But the same drug doesn’t work twice.
Like all the selected plays, it’s a production remarkably fitted to radio. Bartlett’s construction also seems as traditional Saturday Night Theatre as its themes are fresh. Bartlett, himself slightly younger than the children portrayed here, is the first to explore the shrinking options for young people post-crash: no careers, no security, nowhere to dream of children in their turn.
Burns moves from stylishly cocky young Oxbridge student to vaguely angsty dad to wearily suave paterfamilias rather seamlessly. It’s a fine-drawn performance and he hits the right vocal stride. Stirling woozes her voice from the start, smart student increasingly lush and alcoholic. Unusually with this fine actor one feels after her confident 1967 the vocal edginess hints self-parody – of Sandra, not Stirling. It’s still consummate, but a bit close-up: this is a performance we’ll welcome most back in the theatre.
Knowles’ watchful Henry doesn’t get more than the first scene, so never has a chance to develop from Henry’s resentful second-best. Laughland in particular impresses as the ardent teenager turned weary musician, who carries the burden of accusation or at least inquest on where it all went right for one generation, and disastrously wrong for hers and Jamie. This shrouded role is taken as far as it can be by Mark Noble, hunched into his parents’ denial.
Creatives are the same as the march premiere at the Lyric. It’s directed by Rachel O’Riordan. The original Theatre Sound Design by Simon Slater gets replicated for the radio. Produced by Jeremy Mortimer and Steve Bond there’s additional production by Jack Howson. Sound Editing’s by Adam Woodhams, Production coordinator Gabriel Francis, Production manager Sarah Kenny, Executive Producers Bertie Carvel and Joby Waldman. Like all this series, it’s a Reduced Listening Production.
It’s to be hoped this play returns after Lockdown. That said we gain treasurable permanence by hearing this play in a setting not unsympathetic to it: pure radio. Like Jack Thorne’s 2019 The End of History – an inquest on the Labour Party in three time sequences (1997, 2007, 2017) – epic eavesdropping casts that ultimate spell: reading ourselves by flashes of lightning.