Lovesong - Review by Mike Aiken
This is an ingenious play about long term love. It's neither sentimental nor outrageous. It's much more interesting than that. There's certainly an intuitive link to the conscious stream of Eliot's 'Prufrock.' But it also conjures a sentiment from an old Beatlessong: 'someday we'll remember, things we said today.'
'Lovesong', written by Abi Morgan in 2011, is the story of a couple's relationship revealed in parallel time sequences. So their past and present selves pass each other on stage and nearly, but not quite, touch.
Maggie and Billy have been together for 40 years. She is worried about the cat and concerned about the junk in the loft. He has important things on his mind, such as, driving to the surgery and watering the lawn.
Meanwhile, Margaret and William are the young couple. They worry about finding a house and getting work. Will they have children? Is he having an affair or is she? He is a dentist, so does not favour cremation: buried teeth are the archaeology of the future. She loves the stone age cave paintings: drawn with hope that people would live beyond their time. But the starlings are gathering.
The fine detail of this exploration of everyday love creates the universal: two people who live a life of quiet achievement and common despair. There are the words that have been said. And the many more things left unsaid. The gaps in their conversation reveal their mutual mistakes which they now skim over.
The play has often been interpreted along the lines of early performances devised by Frantic Assembly. However, Kirsty Elmer, who directed this NVT production, innovated on this and added some transitional sequences. She saw one of the biggest challenges as keeping 'the delicacy of it. And the balance – trying to not overdo it.'
This certainly came over for the audience with strong performances from Nikki Dunsford and Michael Bulman (Maggie and Billy) complemented by Sally Lord and Robert Purchese (Margaret and William). The silences spoke as loudly as the words while the eye contact and eye avoidance between actors kept the audience intently observant.
As in her previous productions at NVT, Kirsty carefully designed the set which sketched the bedroom, kitchen and garden with no clutter or fuss. There was a Chinese lantern, a box of oddments from the loft and a souvenir from an ancient holiday. The audacity of the wardrobe doubling as an entrance and exit door was a delight. Meanwhile, the light changes played important roles in conjuring shifts in mood particularly with the hues cast over the double bed in the later stages. Sound effects created by Adam Hewitt combined with Kirsty's selection of Nils Frahm's music to enhance the action and transitions.
There was a point three quarters of the way through where the play lost energy. The direction of the drama was beginning to become clear and perhaps the script could have been shortened slightly here. At times the projection of fascinating starlings gathering for migration while spellbinding in its own right began to distract from the main action.
The pauses and distances inherent in the play provided a vivid portrayal of English sensibilities. It would be intriguing to see how audiences from different cultures interpret the drama. But that's another project!
It was a real achievement that this performance left a deep impression, through unspoken cues, of a love discrete and brave. There were all the things said. And the greater number of things unsaid.
At the end there was an uproarious applause from the audience. But this was followed by a reflective silence. And some quiet tears in the garden afterwards.