Director: Juliet Forster
Presenter: Harry Gration
York Theatre Royal sprang into action on the first possible date as restrictions on indoor entertainment eased. As a combined welcome back to theatre and a prelude to the upcoming Love Season (next week Romeo and Juliet – and you can’t get a more iconic love story than that!) the Theatre Royal staged Love Bites for two nights, both sold out in advance at approximately half capacity.
The result was both a perfect celebration and an evening of such variety (in every way) that it is almost impossible to review. Over 20 performers or groups of performers, chosen from over 200, performed pieces on the subjects of love, home, connecting together and the city of York. The essential qualification was that they should be from York. Some were professionals, some amateurs, some professionals in not strictly theatrical fields.
Love Bites was ideally suited to the present situation in one very practical way. The evening presented over 30 performers, but each item could be rehearsed separately: none involved more than three people, so social distancing was no problem.
The evening began with one of the few non-original pieces, Toby Gordon making a fine job of putting over O Tell Me the Truth about Love by W.H. Auden (a York lad, so qualified). Clearly this was not going to be a revue pitched at populist taste and in the evening songs and comic monologues jostled for stage time alongside expressive dance, a clown routine, mime, puppetry, paper-cut projections, African drumming, and a rhapsodic piano piece.
The evening celebrated both diversity and the concept of home, in, for instance, Zimbabwean Butshilo Nleya on the “foreignness” of York that became home to him or Japanese/English actor Erika Noda on the problems of getting people to believe she “comes from” York.
The diligent reviewer is bound to record that not everything matched up to the standard suggested by the awe-struck enthusiasm of the ever-amiable presenter Harry Gration, or justified the constant screams and yells of delight from the audience. Some pieces also lacked context or were better suited to a smaller venue.
But this is not the time or the occasion for nit-picking. Love Bites had plenty to celebrate – and it celebrated! Two excellent items, both thoroughly professional in presentation, came from Richard Kay and Fladam. Kay’s clever and attractive song about why people want to sing began a cappella and moved on to a splendidly witty use of pre-recorded multi-tracking. Adam Sowter of Fladam logged in to a Zoom call, with Florence Poskett projected on the screen behind the action, which led to a sweet and smart song about the need to find connections to express love. Flo twisted and blurred on the screen and, of course, the Zoom call finished just as Adam was ready to sing the word “love”.
The professionalism of the backstage team was outstanding. To bring a show like this in on time (2 ½ hours including interval) is some achievement and the use of the stage screen, the only permanent staging, was well handled – a final word for Ben Pugh’s filmed background to Kitty Greenbrown and Robert Powell’s poetic reimagining of The Angels of Lendal Bridge.
Reviewed on May 17th 2021