Trafalgar Studio 2, London SW1
Opened 13 March, 2008

Ciaran McConville’s play asks the simple(!) question “What is love?”, and is at its best when engaging most directly with it. The character of Alex, insightful despite his learning difficulties, allows McConville moments of unselfconscious poeticism. Mary, who gets involved with Alex’s elder brother and carer Tom, is as perceptive but more straightforward: at the end of their first date, when Tom protests that perhaps they should take it slowly, she retorts, “To hell with that, I wore special underwear.”
Unfortunately, the play focuses increasingly on Tom, with Alex and Mary appearing in a single scene each after the interval while Tom progresses to the inevitable climax: a long-overdue confrontation with the loss of his mother two years before the action begins and twelve before it ends a couple of hours later. And so we are presented with Tom’s tightly-buttoned self-sacrifice, his sister Sally’s not cold-hearted but too self-centred careerism, and family friends Gerry and Janet who in various ways – over-focus on work, adultery, heavy drinking – serve as emblems of the possible down side of togetherness. McConville is weaker when dealing with matters outside characters’ hearts and minds: the business of Sally’s media career dovetailing helpfully with Alex’s new-found enthusiasm as a video maker is a conspicuously convenient plot device. (It does, though, furnish between-scenes extracts from interviews about love supposedly conducted by Alex, with folk other than the cast giving apparently unscripted personal responses.) The more the second act drives towards its conclusion, the less interesting it becomes either thematically or dramatically.
Kerry Bradley’s design is striking: the back wall of Trafalgar 2’s broad, shallow space is hung with a couple of hundred framed pictures, each with a blank tag hanging from one corner. Gradually we realise that they represent memories of loved ones, with the tags representing differing definitions and values of love from one case to another. The snow metaphor, a little overdone in the script, is taken further by clothing the entire auditorium in white, which is visually arresting but conceals the seat numbers. Karl Davies and Katherine Manners lead the cast of seven in performance quality just as their characters Alex and Mary do script-wise; they are joined by Linda Broughton as Mary’s mother, who seems to bring more lived experience to the most minor role.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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