Writer: Sasha Ravenscroft
Director: Nicole Roberts Ryder
Finding love can be like a dance with the devil and that is exactly the experience of protagonist Molly in Sasha Ravenscroft’s play A Simple Tale of Love showing as part of Camden Fringe. A two-hander with a difference and, more than anything else, a comedy of opposites attracting. What should you do when you fall in love with a very strange man?
Molly is sick of her colleagues who belittle and bully her, while her boss is restructuring the company just to push her out. No one believes she has met the man of her dreams, but JD is real and when he comes for dinner at Molly’s flat, she is determined that tonight will be the night. Only, JD is not quite what he appears and is he even capable of love?
Ravenscroft’s play, which divides showings between the Hens and Chickens Theatre in Islington and the Etcetera in Camden, is a sweet tale about a middle aged, lonely woman who finds happiness in dance but who must build her confidence to face the all too literal demons in her life. The creation of workplace angst feels familiar with gossipy cliques and an ineffectual boss that come to life in Nicole Roberts Ryder’s production as Molly torments herself by reliving their sneers.
It sets the scene well for the transformation to come and the arrival of JD whose oddity and lack of understanding offer lots of opportunities for humour, as well as creating a romantic driver for Molly that the audience can invest in. The characters’ backstories and themes referencing religion and disappointment are clear, providing a solid groundwork from which the story can emerge.
Yet, A Simple Tale of Love never quite comes together, and Ravenscroft isn’t clear whether the audience should be rooting for a happy ending to the love story and a chance for Molly to prove her nasty colleagues wrong, or for her to develop a standalone self confidence that moves her characterisation beyond a wistful romantic, passively waiting for her fairy tale to come true.
The play works best when Molly addresses the audience directly in monologue format while the sections in dialogue with JD don’t have quite the same feeling of authentic conversation. And Ravenscroft is almost too subtle in her approach creating meandering interaction when a more forthright attitude from Molly as she makes her move on the unwitting JD would be both more dynamic and funnier.
Molly is very likeable, and Helen Walling-Richards easily wins over the audience with her accessible and sympathetic characterisation, making Molly a woman struggling to be noticed and stuck in a life she doesn’t enjoy. Walling-Richards marks a shift across the performance as Molly’s confidence grows, but the aftermath of the connection with Daniel Singh Pabla’s JD is too easily accepted. JD is less knowable, and we never truly understand his feeling for Molly, but Singh Pabla plays the humorous restraint well.
More reflections from the central character on her path to enlightenment would better connect the pieces of the play yet it adopts quite distinct voices for the characters, contrasting the ordinariness of Molly and her immersion in human trivialities with JD’s more lyrical and florid vocabulary. Nonetheless, the chemistry between them lacks the vital spark that could ignite this simple tale of love.
Runs until 29 August 2021
Camden Fringe runs from 2 to 29 August 2021