Lyric Hammersmith, London W6
Opened 3 June, 2008

Three years ago, when a chorus of septua- and octogenarians on the Lyric stage gave rock songs new meaning by singing them from their own perspective in Road To Nowhere, I suspected that the show’s middle-aged creators were patronising and exploiting the performers, creating (as it were) a conceptual artwork made from old people. I carried the same suspicions into Love, a jukebox musical about a coup de foudre striking two inmates of an old people’s home. But I need not have worried: writer and director, and the Lyric’s favourite mad Icelander, Gísli Örn Garðarsson, prefers it when other folk join in his games. Here, a “Community Choir” of local seniors give this show a backbone and also etch their individual characters on it, both in the naturalistic scenes and in a brief but delicious Chekhov parody at the end of the first act. Melded with them, a clutch of professional actors take lead roles: amorous couple Margaret and Neville are played by Anna Calder-Marshall and Julian Curry, with Dudley Sutton trundling around alternating between catatonia and puckishness, and at one point lamenting in song that “The Drugs Don’t Work”.
Comedy often arises from the juxtaposition of songs with elderly singers, but it is never at the expense of the latter: when they sing “Hope I die before I get old”, they are taking the mickey out of themselves, Pete Townshend and the youth-fetishisation of rock music and culture in general, and when “Perfect Day” was delivered as a nostalgic remembrance of a time before one’s beloved receded into the vale of dementia I couldn’t help but reflect that Lou Reed himself is now 66 years old. As the culmination of an exchange between Margaret and Neville that consists entirely of snippets of song lyrics, the company even pull off the considerable feat of reclaiming Jim Steinman’s ludicrous rock aria “Total Eclipse Of The Heart”. Some elements are misplaced: there’s no need to work in a vein of music-hall numbers (do the math: today’s seniors grew up not with Marie Lloyd, but with big bands and nascent rock’n’roll), and it’s not actually compulsory to include Coldplay’s “Yellow”. But the show is a beautiful reminder, both poignant and celebratory, that, sweep them under institutional carpets though we may, old folk share our culture and our feelings completely.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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