Love, Love, Love – Mike Bartlett
Newcastle Theatre Company Production – September 3rd.
“Love, Love, Love” is a play written by British playwright Mike Bartlett. We had the pleasure of seeing a production of this play performed by Newcastle Theatre Company and directed by Carl Caulfield.
“The play offers many moments of comic recognition and irony”
Carl Caulfield (Director).
The play is performed in three acts, each act portraying the characters at different stages of their lives. It opens in the 1960s with the main protagonists, Kenneth and Sandra being enthused about the summer of love and all that went with it. We follow the course of their lives from young carefree people to parents of teenagers in March 1990 and finally into retirement in 2011. All acts are given an appropriate amount of ‘weight’ similar to three one act plays. It is well constructed, compelling and thought provoking. 24 hours after seeing the play we are continuing to reflect on the intent of Mike Bartlett’s writing. There is an uncomfortable resonance with what the intergenerational conflict means to us today.
An under-riding theme of the play is that older generations have amassed a great deal of wealth leaving younger generations struggling. The older generation is seen as selfish and self-indulgent by their children and there is a culture of blame on one side and defensiveness on the other but neither can see the situation from the other's perspective. This struggle is seen in the context of accusations that the baby boomers have consumed all the fruits of progress but have left only the scraps for the next generation who happen to be their children. Class warfare, mal-distribution of wealth, "haves and have-nots" have been features of human society since ancient times. However characterising the haves an have-nots across a generational divide is a new spin. Throughout history affluent people have tended to believe that they are well-off because they deserve to be, perhaps because they have worked hard , taken risks, or more often just due to historical entitlement. A more dispassionate analysis might reveal that they are simply the beneficiaries s of good fortune, such as being born at the right time in the right place, into a good family with good education, natural ability and good opportunities. When Kenneth and Sandra's daughter Rosie confronts them over this very issue Kenneth can only see that his financial security is deserved. Rosie has no financial security but feels equally deserving. This intergenerational unfairness is due to many of the opportunities available to the previous generation being no longer accessible. All this is conveyed through the character portrayals, their life stories and through the medium of sharp, witty dialogue. Despite the humour in Love, Love, Love, there are several moments that will shock.
This is an ensemble play with the three primary characters of Sandra (Tracey Gordon), Kenneth (Richard Murray) and Rosie (Beth Traynor) being competently supported by Henry (Justin Smith) and Jamie (Conagh Punch). Sandra, however in our opinion, is the pivotal character to the story. Her personality drives the play forwards to portray the evolution of the life story of the characters. She evolves from a coquettish 19 year old to self absorbed adult in her early forties to self indulgent sixty year old. Kenneth goes through a similar metamorphosis but is a less intense character. He is slightly more tolerant and easy going compared to Sandra. Rosie, when we first meet her is a sulky teenager who then becomes a struggling professional musician in her late thirties in the final act. Mike Bartlett’s final commentary is delivered through her lines. The two supporting characters, Henry and Jamie round out the cast and help provide balance for the principal protagonists.
One of the challenges of the play is for the actors to portray the same characters over the span of 44 years without the benefit of hours in a make up chair and the use of prosthetics. In the NTC production the ages were conveyed through voice, mannerism, movement and costume. One of the difficulties of playing in an intimate theatre space was that the age of the actors was harder to disguise and a certain suspension of belief on the part of the audience was required in Act 1. The acting made up for a slight discrepancy in looks at 19 yrs, with excellent portrayals at 44 and 63.
Sets were minimalist and sufficiently conveyed the difference in time. Music and in particular the main theme Love, Love, Love was used effectively at just the right dramatic moment. (No spoilers!). There were many in the audience of the session we attended who were themselves baby boomers who were obviously enjoying the humour, the music and general ambience of the play. The ending promoted much discussion as audience members were leaving. (We discussed it all the way home in the car and continue to do so).
To conclude, the NTC’s production of Love, Love, Love was highly entertaining, well acted and thought provoking. Despite the humour, the audience is never left in doubt that this is a biting satire with a strong take home message for many.