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Love, Love, Love, Lyric Hammersmith review - a stinging revival | reviews, news & interviews

Love, Love, Love, Lyric Hammersmith review - a stinging revival

Love, Love, Love, Lyric Hammersmith review - a stinging revival

Mike Bartlett play remains as buoyant and biting as ever

Young love: Nicholas Burns and Rachael Stirling in 'Love, Love, Love'Helen Maybanks

The Beatles lyric that gives Mike Bartlett’s terrific play its title dates to 1967, which also happens to be the year in which the first of Bartlett’s three acts is set. What follows are two further scenes in the evolving relationship between Kenneth (Nicholas Burns) and Sandra (Rachael Stirling), set in 1990 and then 2011.

The Beatles lyric that gives Mike Bartlett’s terrific play its title dates to 1967, which also happens to be the year in which the first of Bartlett’s three acts is set. What follows are two further scenes in the evolving relationship between Kenneth (Nicholas Burns) and Sandra (Rachael Stirling), set in 1990 and then 2011. By that point, their marriage has ended, only for the onetime Oxford University sweethearts to exist under siege from their two children, not least a 37-year-old daughter (Isabella Laughland) who courses with disappointment on every front (romantic, financial, professional) and takes advantage of a funeral gathering to demand that her affluent parents buy her a flat.                        

I loved this play when it premiered at the Royal Court in 2012 and even more so in its 2016 run Off Broadway, where Richard Armitage and Amy Ryan led the cast. Rachel O’Riordan’s current production – her second since taking the reins at the Lyric Hammersmith – is arguably the most brittle of the three, a tone encapsulated by an alcohol-fuelled Sandra’s zingers at all and sundry. Nonetheless, it alights where needed on laughter and pain, with Mike Noble particularly strong as the younger son, Jamie, whose maladjustment to life becomes more evident with the passage of time.Rachael Stirling (right) in 'Love, Love, love'We begin in the groovy, flowing-haired late-'60s where Sandra has arrived for a date with Kenneth's older brother Henry (Patrick Knowles), only to be seduced instead by a sibling who very much refuses to make himself scarce. Stoned upon entry, Sandra thinks nothing of extolling her own legs even as this self-proclaimed Essex girl derides those amongst whom she grew up as "animals". Small wonder she makes a beeline for Burns's hipster-seeming university contemporary whom she has married by the second scene, where we find the couple (pictured above) living in domestic far-from-bliss. One of the few constants by that point is Sandra's ongoing awareness of mortality – "we're going to die" is her apparent mantra – and a ceaseless fondness for booze. (Joanna Scotcher's cunning set mirrors the passage of time in televisual terms, the action encased in a period TV from the 1960s that widens as we get nearer to the present.) 

Come the third scene, set in 2011, the pair have parted only to seem more comfortable in one another's company than ever. As a unit, these divorcés are fully poised to greet the slings and arrows of the ever-compelling Laughland's furious daughter, who arrives demanding that she be given a flat, only for Sandra to respond with a nifty eleventh-hour speech taking issue with such entitlement and allowing each combatant to be seen in the round: one can't escape the role played by the carefree, heedless Sandra, and her like, in the wreckage passed on to a younger generation that itself obsesses over whether or not mum got to a music recital on time. Followers of such things will note, too, that this play's first Sandra, Victoria Hamilton, went on to star in Bartlett's Albion in a role made (with time) to order for Stirling, here playing a mother cut from not dissimilarly aspish cloth. 

The wonder of a play structured as if it were a Noel Coward comedy of old rests in Bartlett's appropriation of his dramatic forbears  – Pinter and Stoppard especially, not least in a conversational riff on Procol Harum that could have come directly from the adultery-themed Stoppard play, The Real Thing. Bartlett's generational saga is itself the real thing: a blistering critique that lets no one off the hook and believes not in ready-made villains but in a festering rancour within families that never quite abates. Playing someone with "a mouth like a tram", Stirling at times is a shade too actressy as the take-no-prisoners mum, but the play entertains and scalds in turn, as it must: a dark comedy with love in the title that knows a thing or two about resentment and hate.

Rachel O'Riordan's production alights where needed on laughter and pain

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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