If there is one thing I hope for when I go to the theatre, it’s drama, and Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love has it in spades. Red Stitch Theatre’s Australian premiere of the 2010 British play, directed by Denny Lawrence, is a panoply of conflict, character, tragedy, humour, bad behaviour and stage business. And there is so much at stake: how will the sixties generation/baby boomers find their feet, and how will their offspring survive and prosper?
The three-act play opens in a London flat in 1967, the Summer of Love. Procol Harum are top of the charts, and change is in the air. Brothers clash. A bad girl with big dreams enters. The future is bright, and laden with doom. Red Stitch’s marvellous troupe attacks the play with gusto and a delicate feeling for era and character. Paul Ashcroft’s Kenneth has a nervy eagerness tempered by dope and alcohol and Jordan Fraser-Trumble as his brother Henry nails the portrait of a working-class man with traditional values. Ella Caldwell’s Sandra is zany and hypnotic as the mini-skirted ‘bird’, middle-class and iconoclastic, sexually provocative and ready for anything.
Love, Love, Love is a clever dramatisation of the issues facing babyboomers and their children. Aged thirty-four, the playwright Bartlett has captured the idiom and culture of his parents’ generation, its idealism and delusion, its passion and its craziness. As one of these babyboomers, attending the performance with my Gen-X daughter, I found it both hilarious and painful. The audience was caught between laughter and sobering truth.
Caldwell and Ashcroft segue adroitly into their older selves in Act Two, set in 1990. Caldwell (Artistic Director of Red Stitch) is a powerful physical actor and particularly adept at shape-shifting. She morphs from zany to manipulative. But we know little of what has happened in the interim. What jobs have taken over their lives and undermined their ideals and their relationships with their children? And the dramatic conflict, which turns on the pin of an extra-marital affair, hardly merits the showdown that concludes the act. It is more a flaw in the play than in this production. Fortunately there is more fine acting to relish from the guest actors: Jem Nicolas plays fifteen-year-old Rose with barely contained anger, and Rory Kelly inhabits the innocent yet spiteful soul of her younger brother Jamie in a hilarious impression of a teenage boy.
In Act Three we see the fall-out in the lives of the children, now in their thirties, and the mellowing of their retirement-aged parents. The playwright shows no mercy, to the older couple or their offspring. The daughter has come into her power and Nicholas excels in the dramatic confrontation with her parents as, with visual and musical echoes of the opening act, the plot twists towards its nuanced and open-ended conclusion.
Despite a weak second act, Love, Love, Love is a domestic drama that exposes the inter-generational conflict of our times. Its dialogue is fresh, its characters complex and its denouement an opportunity for more thought and discussion of the issues. It does this in the most entertaining way, holding a fine balance between humour and gravity. Red Stitch’s version keeps all these balls in the air in this brilliant production.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
Love, Love, Love
by Mike Bartlett
Directed by Denny Lawrence
Venue: Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel Street, St Kilda East.
Dates: 5 June – 4 July 2015
Times: Sun 6.30pm;Wed/Thurs/Fri 8pm; Sat 6 June 8pm; Sat 13, 20, 27 June & 4 July 3pm & 8pm.
Duration: 2 hours, plus interval
Tickets $37 – 39
Bookings: http://redstitch.net/bookings | 03 9533 8083