Watford Palace and touring
Opened 16 March, 2011

The third and final act of Love, Love, Love is as fine a piece of work as author Mike Bartlett has done. However, I spent much of the preceding two in anxious perplexity, wondering what I was missing in this play, so lauded on its opening in Plymouth last autumn and now touring for Paines Plough until the end of May.
Act One: 1967, the summer of love, and excited, wannabe-liberated Oxford student Kenneth is avoiding spending the long vacation with his parents by hiding in his strait-laced, sullen brother Henry’s flat. When Henry’s “bird” Sandra visits, she clicks with Kenneth instead. Act Two: 1990, Kenneth and Sandra are too busy bickering about the state of their marriage to pay much attention to the upbringing of 14-year-old smart brat Jamie and 16-year-old neurotic birthday girl Rosie. Act Three: 2011, Rosie calls her now divorced parents together (while mentally ill Jamie avoids the family meeting) to indict them for their selfishness and demand they buy her a house.
Described thus, it is the last act which sounds the most factitious, but this is where Bartlett and director James Grieve’s earlier crass characterisations finally acquire depth. It is audacious to confront these ageing children of the Sixties by asserting that actually it is all about money: the money their generation enjoyed, continued to enjoy and are not now passing on. But when the point has been prepared by a clutch of so cartoonishly broad characterisations, its potential genuine substance is fatally undermined. Kenneth is fluently feckless, Henry a resentful petit-bourgeois (a different class even from his brother), Sandra an initially groovy but persistently braying proto-Sloane, Jamie and Rosie a stereotypical teenage boy and girl respectively. This is not the deft, economical sketching of a master, capturing his subject in a few eloquent strokes of the pen; it is crayon-in-fist work.
At this moment in global financial history when, arguably, the Sixties generation’s blank cheques are being presented for redemption but not honoured, the play appears to have a real, substantive case to make. It may even be right. But when it goes up against mere straw men of its own devising, we may never know the truth. Nor care.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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