Writer: Cordelia Lynn
Director: Elayce Ismail
Reopening the newly refurbished Donmar Warehouse for its first fully staged performance since March 2020, Cordelia Lynn’s Love and Other Acts of Violence explores the complex relationship between a poet and a scientist while examining the political context of the courtship as well as their united Polish heritage – his Catholic, hers Jewish. With a lengthy epilogue set in 1918, Lynn’s play looks at the repetitive cycles of history and the inevitable destructiveness that love brings.
Her and Him meet at a party where he unknowingly insults her flat, but a one-night stands grows into a more serious relationship for a couple who bicker as often as they share tender moments. Over time her concern that he is unintelligent and his resentment of her cold, logic starts to widen the gap between them. but while their goals change, they cannot let go of one another, especially when society starts to dissolve.
About two-thirds of Lynn’s play is a series of episodes, snatches of conversation that are conventionally staged if deliberately disjointed. Whether these are played in chronological order is unclear, although there is some overarching sense of progression from early courtship to moving in and discussing babies, yet the conversations are grounded in everyday frustrations; her belief that student protestors are like ‘children with feelings and no thought’ and her worries about exposure when he dedicates his publication to her. Later in the play, Him tellingly states ‘I loved you so much I hated you.’
In the structure and style of her play, Lynn references similar works including Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage which translated from television to the stage and more notably Caryl Churchill’s piecemeal Love and Information that takes a similar fragmentary approach to this vast topic. Later in this portion of the play, Lynn looks to Pinter as the external scenario turns apocalyptic and so the dialogue becomes tense and loaded with indiscriminate acts of violence described in terse staccato sentences.
Through this Lynn weaves a slow-burning thread about Jewish identity, diaspora and cultural assault as the couple’s conflicting heritage first comes between them and then becomes a source of anxiety about Her safety. At this point another type of play begins, a more naturalistic piece set in an earlier era that looks to the origins of some of these strands and, while important, doesn’t have quite the same grip as the more abstract rhythms of the earlier duologue.
Making her stage debut Abigail Weinstock makes Her a complicated but controlled woman, a logical thinker who bats away any idea of conspiracy, preferring rationalism to emotion. It makes her powerful in the relationship, but it also gives her a distance from Him, demanding to be consulted before he appropriates her name and allowing Him to speak at length while revealing very little herself.
Tom Mothersdale’s Him is obsessive and needy in his love for Her, and equally fired by his political activism. Him often has his feelings hurt by Her coldness but continues to pursue a deep connection with Her that he thinks is somehow destined despite their fractiousness. Both characters have voiceover monologues that add to the alienating effect in which neither can fully express themselves to the other and must do so only in the abstract.
Designer Basia Bińkowska uses a flat surface surrounded by piles of earth or ash that symbolise the historical events referenced later in the play, while Joshua Pharo’s lighting creates some interesting and stylised accents for the voiceover segments while offering a black and white starkness as the atmosphere sours. There are lots of these interesting approaches in Love and Other Acts of Violence, but as the two segments of the play vary in their success, like the central couple, the overall effect is less than perfect.
Runs until 27 November 2021