‘Love, Love, Love’ review CANCELLED

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
Love Love Love
Photograph: Helen Maybanks Rachel Stirling and Nicholas Burns

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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Mike Bartlett’s spectacular evisceration of the baby boomer generation is back and still brilliant

'Love, Love, Love' is cancelled due to Covid-19

A satire on baby boomers in the era of ‘OK boomer’? Bit on the nose, surely?

Well yes. But part of the joy of playwright Mike Bartlett’s writing is that he’s totally unafraid to steam in on any given topic of the day. 

And in fact, this is one he prepared earlier: Rachel O’Riordan’s production is the tenth anniversary revival of ‘Love, Love, Love’, which premiered in 2010 and had a run at the Royal Court in 2012.

Has it stood up? It has! In some ways its sheer ferocity keeps it fresh. In three short scenes, Bartlett’s play eviscerates the still-mostly-with-us ‘60s generation with a savagery – albeit a funny savagery – that almost feels shocking. Can he really say that?

It sets out its stall in the first scene, where Bartlett more or less writes off the entire summer of love as a sham. It is London, 1967, and Kenneth (Nicholas Burns) is the layabout 19-year-old student brother of the terminally square Henry (Patrick Knowles) – there’s only four years between them but they seem like different species. Henry wants Ken out, because he’s got a date coming. Unfortunately, it’s Rachel Stirling’s monstrously self-absorbed Sandra, who clearly has nothing in common with Henry, and soon manoeuvres him out of the way so she can seduce Ken, whose flimsy pledges of fraternal loyalty she steamrollers with free love platitudes and a promise that what they’re doing is better for everyone. Bartlett’s thesis: that there was no meaningful ’60s ideology, just a self-mythology cooked up as an excuse for a generation to indulge itself. 

Fair? I think Bartlett takes some pleasure in not being entirely fair. But he’s certainly persuasive, as we move on to a second act set in 1990, where Kenneth and Sandra are boozy, dysfunctional Thatcherites, whose monumental selfishness is starting to seriously mess up their teenage children, Rose (Isabella Laughland) and Jamie (Mike Noble). 

In the final, 2011-set scene, a miserable 37-year-old Rose confronts her now filthy rich, divorced parents over the fact they encouraged her to follow her dreams and became a concert violinist, despite being mediocre – they respond with a defensively self-contradictory set of assertions: that it’s important to follow your dreams, and that she shouldn’t have listened to them when they told her to follow their dreams – she should have rebelled against her parents, like they did! But again, did that generation rebel? Or did they take drugs for a few years and then become accountants in Reading? One generation’s self-justifying pseudo-ideology has become the next generation’s poison.

You can get bogged down in the specifics. The lead characters are boomers, but ultimately it’s a play about parents fucking their kids up by refusing to make sacrifices for them. It is very funny. And O’Riordan has assembled a great cast: Stirling’s Sandra is a hoot, monumental in her awfulness, but Burns gives the more nuanced performances – there is something constantly uneasy in his demeanour as Kenneth’s, and a sense that he knows that they’ve not done right as parents, but he’s just going to do the thing that he wants to do anyway. It’s Laughland and Noble whose performances really haunt, though, much more subtle turns than their cartoonish parents. They’re both damaged in different ways – by 2011 he’s a former teen prodigy, now burnt out mentally and co-opted as Ken’s live-in drinking buddy; she’s fought harder than her parents ever did to make something of herself, and the effort has broken her. 

Kenneth and Sandra could have saved both of them… but they didn’t, and it’s that betrayal that damns them – not turning their back on a dream that was always a sham.

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