There’s a plaintive poshness to Robert Bathurst’s stage and screen presence – a crumple of tailored linen and regret that has served him well when distilled into TV comedy-drama series like ‘Cold Feet’. It’s a quality that works to varying degrees here.
‘Love, Loss & Chianti’ at the new Riverside Studios sees Bathurst, with Rebecca Johnson, performing Christopher Reid’s 2009 poems ‘A Scattering’ and ‘The Song of Lunch’. The former is about grief, with Bathurst's character recalling the death of his wife (Johnson), their life together and her absent presence. It’s a highly literary piece of verse, wrapping itself up in Latin and long words as it weaves together a holiday in Crete and the grip of cancer with mazes and the Minotaur.
Bathurst brings the erudite tone, but the frame of the poem – its translation of foreign climes and people into a string of mythological metaphors – feels self-conscious and a little dusty as delivered here. The verse, tripping in and out of the rhythm of speech, never resonates as meaningfully as it does on the page. The words don’t travel as well – or as far – as they might, on this particular stage.
More poignant and affecting are the passages after the metaphor-heavy travelogue. In the months following her death, Bathurst’s widower sorts through his wife’s belongings and tries to move forward while haunted by late-night reminders of the routines and rituals of a long marriage. These quieter moments, prodding the painful links between love, death and daily habit, fill up with loss.
‘The Song of Lunch’ is significantly more effective. Reid’s other career as a cartoonist is strongly on show in his merciless skewering of an embittered, self-important editor and his disastrous lunch with an ex in Soho. Bathurst seizes the caricaturist comedy of this snobbish, Bloomsbury Set-idolising character with both hands and relishingly offers him up to us with the sharply observed whine of bruised male ego.
Director Jason Morrell’s staging also springs into life in this section, as the pace quickens with the animated sketches of Charles Peattie’s designs and drawings that provide the production's backdrop. And while the two women she plays are always filtered through the male voices of the poems, a blazing Johnson gets to launch one satisfyingly thunderous takedown of her lunch companion.