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Love, Love, Love at Manchester Royal Exchange Studio

Published by: Caroline May on 27th Oct 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Paines Plough’s tour of Love, Love, Love by Olivier award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett has just opened in the Royal Exchange Studio.  Despite the cosy proportions of the production this is an ambitious play which takes us from the end of the swinging sixties to the economic malaise of the late Noughties while posing the question, How did we get from there to here?

We kick off in a shabby London bedsit in 1967, where upwardly mobile Oxford undergrad Kenneth (John Heffernan) is sponging off his older and squarer brother Henry (Simon Darwen) during the Long Vac.  Though only four years separate them they’re living in different decades - Henry is a remnant of fifties austerity, while bohemian Ken is excited by the prospect of a changing world.  Then posh dolly-bird Sandra (Daniela Denby-Ashe) arrives in a cloud of patchouli and pot, a mini-dressed goddess who personifies the new era that will embrace Ken and abandon Henry.

Only in Act 2 do we come to understand the parallels between the individualistic do-your-own-thing hippy ethos and the selfish attitudes of Thatcher’s eighties, by which time Ken and Sandra are fully paid-up yuppies obsessed with their own problems and emotionally neglecting their teenage children.  The final act - which, given the amount of booze and fags consumed throughout the play, amazingly does not take place in a liver transplant unit or oxygen tent - purports to show the damage the parents’ have-it-all ethos has inflicted not just on their family but an entire generation.

Daniela-Denby-Ashe may not entirely convince as a stoned sixties swinger, but her severely chignoned, chardonnay-swigging career woman rings true.  And she’s very funny as a trendy, chilled-out mum who thinks good parenting means forcing her kids to stay up all night while plying them with white wine and cigarettes: “My little boy smoking in front of his mother - a proper family at last.”

John Heffernan’s Ken is strongest in his giggling, dressing-gowned student phase and weary, Boden catalogue clad retirement.  His obvious unease during the pin-striped interlude is well justified by his wife’s lament, “We live in Reading - something’s gone wrong.”

Rosie Wyatt and James Barrett as the unfortunate offspring, all grimaces and rolling eyes, are superb at conveying their adolescent angst in Act 2.

Like a cut-down Cavalcade, Love, Love, Love attempts to examine the state of the nation through the prism of one family, but finally the focus narrows into a simple old-fashioned love story - if you can imagine the kind of love story where Elyot and Amanda from Private Lives are married with children.

Director James Grieve acknowledges the physical comedy in Mike Bartlett’s script, and Lucy Osborne’s sets are detailed, authentic and evocative.  Although the play doesn’t offer easy answers it still manages to find some glimmers of optimism for the human condition in the twenty-first century - if you have a gold-plated pension plan, that is.

 

Love, Love, Love is on until Saturday November 2010

Prices: £10/£7

Monday-Friday: 7:30pm
Thursday Matinee: 2:30pm
Saturday: 4pm & 8pm

Box Office: 0161 833 9833

www.royalexchange.co.uk

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