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FringeReview UK 2023

Low Down

Though it might be red-topped as a Fleabag for the abused, it’s so much more excoriating. It’s also a work profoundly moving, necessary and – particularly for Gintare Parulyte  – an act of courage. Lovefool’s on till May 26th; do rush to this 55-minute must-see.

Written and Directed by Gintare Parulyte, Performer Kristin Winters, Costume Designer Denise Schuman, Shana Louis, Yolande Schmit, Original Lighting DesignerGintare, Lighting Designer for London Alex Forey, Sound & Video  Designer David Gaspar, Assistant Directors Elena Vozarikova, Sandra Kilian-Zazulak

Produced by Théatre National de Luxemburg

Till May 26th


Gintare Parulyte’s Lovefool is the latest blink-and-miss essential to arrive at The Coronet Theatre. Lithuanian-born Luxembourger Parulyte’s work, in short, might be red-topped as a Fleabag for the abused.

And that’s the point. Though also extremely funny, it’s so much more excoriating than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s own groundbreaking work. It certainly shares features. Catholicism for one: the protagonist even gets to confession. There’s an opening and closing interview – this time a theatre audition, but with an abusive director. And it ends – you’ll see.

Elsewhere though, it does things British theatre shies away from. Only the Coronet, perhaps the Royal Court and Soho Theatre, might stage this in London; though it’s proceeding to Edinburgh and might return.

It’s also a work profoundly moving, necessary and – particularly for Parulyte  – an act of courage. Though Parulyte’s acclaimed internationally as a multi-prize-winning playwright, film-maker, actor, this is her UK debut.

Directed by Parulyte (with assistant directors Elena Vozarikova, Sandra Kilian-Zazulak) it’s performed by writer/actor Kristin Winters as Grace, who – after a film clip of a churchy woman giving an appalling sex education lesson floats down the central aisle in a wedding dress for her audition with an offstage directorial voice, goading her to be more expressive. We then move to encounters with a therapist gently scrolling Grace back to the nub of her wanting to please.

Winters is exceptional. Virtuosity here is in all what’s withheld, for how long, refracted through glints of humour and painfully comic readjustments to every insult she receives. Not strictly chronological, because of Grace’s sessions, it’s linear in its revelations. Hungry for love, even simple affection; always accommodating her men, “looking for love in all the wrong places”, Grace, having picked a man on a desultory Tinder-scroll, tanked up with condoms even to her bra, too readily concedes no condoms to musician Oliver. Though suggesting she has Chlamdiya and he might want to change his mind is beautifully thrown away by Winters.

Worse is Grace’s desperation to cook the right meal, to accept her lover’s disinclination to include her in parties. And when he does, Graces loneliness ”I looked good… but” and she dances away to what she can at last hold to: Kylie, the late Tina Turner (whose death was announced during this performance), and other women whose message was to stand under your man; as Grace’s sixty-something male therapist points out to her irritation, quoting every lyric, suggests. What’s love got to do with it?

Though centred on one actor, we’re early on interrupted by the voices of  many children, in a stitching of documentary film shot by Parulyte and colleagues installed by sound and video designer David Gaspar, It’s unnerving. The children of feminists rather chillingly at three define women as good at cleaning and having babies, and being gentle. It’s chilling.

In the time of the toxic Andrew Tate this is a show that needs an afterlife everywhere, touring to schools, which doesn’t make it any the less potent for audiences at say the Coronet. But it does have an educative importance.

What Lovefool also explores in such exacting witness is how early even now children, particularly girls, are conditioned into pleasing men, their elders, and blame themselves, look for love in repeat-abuse patterns. These vary of course and protagonist Grace has received far more abuse than most, including childhood rape, and complicity round abuse.

The narrative though isn’t all about Grace, despite the narrative’s wincing humour, pratfalls, her sudden resolve. There’s an open-ended conclusion, not to the drama, or indeed the sessions with the voiced offstage therapist, which impel her gently to change. After the stage denouement, Winters then silently produces some harrowing information about Grace, in a series of silently-held placards, then asks questions of her audience.

Lit in London by Alex Forey with some beautiful, batty and disco effects, the Coronet itself is set enough, with the stage encroached on by the audience in chairs, abandoning the normal seating. This lends an intimacy with even less space to hide than usual. The one concession to storytelling, bar lighting, is from the three costume designers Denise Schuman, Shana Louis, Yolande Schmit, as well as a few props.

Though Parulyte admits autobiographical elements here, the play and its opening-out to documentary on the one hand, and audience witness on the other, doesn’t say ’this is me’ but rather ‘look at you’; and this, viscerally, is what happens for many of us who see Lovefool. Most particularly in this performance in post-show conversation with Parulyte, Winters, the real Jungian Psychoanalyst Sophie Seale.

The one parallel springing to mind to this show is the very different brace of theatre pieces by director Patrick Sandford: Groomed (2016), and Flourishing (2017). Praised by many including Michael Billington for blowing the lid off taboos, they negotiate both autobiographical theatre and post-show discussion. Sandford is less interested in hybrid artform, is more sheerly personal, interacting on stage with actors. Both approaches are important.

This work though is both deeply considered and crafted to a wider understanding, involves an intense trust between auteur and performer, is equally emotional. As are witnesses post-show (only on 24th). The Coronet’s 180-capacity though is often filled by people travelling from abroad. They often hear about it before London does. Lovefool’s on till May 26th; do rush to this 55-minute must-see.