wed 29/03/2017

Love, Love, Love, Royal Court Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Love, Love, Love, Royal Court Theatre

Love, Love, Love, Royal Court Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s new play is a flawed study of generational conflict

Flower power: Victoria Hamilton and Ben Miles in ‘Love, Love, Love’Johan Persson

The best playwrights have an antenna-like ability to pick up, and respond to, the new conflicts and fault lines that appear in society. Over the past five or so years, the antagonism between the baby-boomer generation, who are now parents with everything, and their kids, who have nothing but debts, has increasingly intensified. And no play articulates this conflict better than Mike Bartlett’s latest, which opened last night, in a production starring Victoria Hamilton and Claire Foy.

The curtain comes up on a pair of contrasting English brothers, one young and hippyish (Kenneth) and the other much more staid (Henry). It’s June 1967, the Summer of Love. But the uneasy relationship of Henry, who works and rents the flat, and Kenneth, who is a bit of dropout, comes under increased strain when Sandra, Henry’s girlfriend, pops around. She’s stoned, and, to Henry’s dismay, she hits it off with his brother.

But can Rose do anything about the situation?

The second act fast forwards to 1990, and the location is Kenneth and Sandra’s terraced home in Reading (cue a joke, twice). By now, they have two kids — the musically inclined Rose and the troubled Jamie — but the settled life doesn’t seem to suit them. For the children of the hippie 1960s and the revolutionary 1970s, normal everyday life is unsatisfying. Annoyed by the demands of their kids (played by George Rainsford and Claire Foy, pictured below right with Hamilton), the parents begin to quarrel.

The final act brings us right up-to-date. The older generation now occupies a large country house, their pensions are maturing nicely and they feel free to enjoy all the riches, emotional as well as material, of the world. But the problem is their kids. Burdened by debt, stuck in poor jobs and living in cramped housing, Rose — like most of her friends — is angry. But can she do anything about the situation?

Bartlett writes with his customary clarity and immediacy, deftly exploring the characters, and as sympathetic to the rather straitlaced Henry as to his wilder brother, as empathetic to the adventurous Sandra as to her more uncertain children. The conflict between them crackles with all of the energy of the contemporary. At the same time, Bartlett realises that in the 1960s, the generational conflict between “square” parents and their “hip” kids could also be played out — as here — between siblings and members of the same generation.

This is also a play about truth and honesty in relationships. Not only is there no love lost between Kenneth and Henry, but the growing sexual competition between Kenneth and Sandra is fuelled by their use of the idea of sexual honesty as a weapon in the sex war, with terrible results, not least for their children. Likewise, when Rose accuses her parents of being selfish and dishonest, her point comes across very strongly.

Yet the play is not without its problems. The great leaps from 1967 to 1990 to now are so breathtaking that character development, and dramatic conflict, are often sacrificed to the desire to make broader points about society. Occasionally, Bartlett’s writing meanders and there are too many repetitive lines. Yet, at his best, he does create memorable moments of domestic discomfort and family fracture.

The play, which takes its title from the Beatles’s 1967 anthem "All You Need Is Love", was first staged in a touring production in 2010. Now recast, James Grieve’s production is often sluggish and a touch too jokey, but is saved by vivid performances from Hamilton as Sandra and Foy, who recently starred in another 1960s drama, the BBC's White Heat. Ben Miles (Kenneth) and Sam Troughton (Henry) are also just right. But Lucy Osborne’s designs are too loud, and two intervals turn the evening into a three-hour marathon, so it sometimes feels as if Grieve is hitting the audience over the head. Ouch, stop it.

CLAIRE FOY’S CV

Claire Foy in Little DorritLittle Dorrit (2008). “Dickens did just see her as homely, angelic and giving. I looked on her as a sort of a carer whose parent or child is ill. That made her believable in my head.”

Upstairs Downstairs (2010-12). Lady Persephone, posh little brown shirt based on the Hitler-obsessed Unity Mitford, tops herself in a dramatic exit from the second series.

The Night Watch (2011). Foy plays a troubled lesbian toy girl in an adaptation of Sarah Waters’ novel about heartache in the Blitz (pictured below with Anna Maxwell Martin)

Claire Foy and Anna Maxwell Martin in The Night WatchWreckers (2011). Foy is wife to Benedict Cumberbatch in fraught low-budget Fenland drama

The Promise (2011). In Peter Kosminsky’s epic historical drama, Foy plays Erin Matthews, an 18-year-old obsessed with investigating the story of the British soldiers serving in Palestine in the years before our ignominious exit.  “I just recognised quite a lot of things about me when I was her age.”

White Heat (2012). Foy is a feminist child of the Sixties who grows up to become Juliet Stevenson.

Hacks (2012). Guy Jenkin comedy inspired by the hacking scandal, in which Foy's feral tabloid editor Kate Loy is not remotely based on to Rebekah Brooks. A rare comic outing for an actress with natural funny bones.

Claire Foy and Victoria Hamilton in Love, Love, LoveLove, Love, Love (2012). In Mike Barlett’s played Foy played a child of a hippie baby boomer. “It’s the Philip Larkin thing: she really does believe her parents did fuck her up. I hope I’m not like she is when she’s 37." (Pictured, Foy with Victoria Hamilton)

Macbeth (2013). “Why does everyone think she’s so evil? My approach to every character is you essentially want to understand. They always have something they are fighting against. They have lost a baby and that’s the catalyst for everything.”

Wolf Hall (2015). Foy’s Anne Boleyn goes toe to toe with Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis.

The Crown (2016). Queen of all she surveys. Bring on series two.

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