DramaLondonReview

Love, Loss and Chianti – Riverside Studios, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Christopher Reid

Director: Jason Morell

When life and love are over, all that remains is fallible, comforting, deceptive and happy memory. Written successively, Christopher Reid’s double bill Love, Loss and Chianti was created as a response to the death of his wife, two seemingly contrasting stories about relationships told from the perspective of a man who lost a woman he loved deeply. By turns funny, touching, celebratory and remorseful, this revival at the Riverside Studios is a delightful exploration of how love and memory align.

Scattered is the first of these pieces, a lyrical and expressive collection of poems about grief that so redolently capture the writer’s experience of loss and mourning while celebrating the vivacity and legacy of his marriage. What sets Reid’s play apart is the ordinariness of his domestic world, how the presence and then absence of his wife are given a tangible presence in the detail and timeline of grief that during the 45-minute show form a picture of their life together.

Jason Morell’s intimate production in the small studio space allows Reid’s textural use of language to create a comfortable Middle-Class world of holidays in Crete, reading the classic literature of Auden, Austen and James while attending dinner parties and enjoying the garden. And it is the everyday that catches the widower – the bathroom scales, toiletries and mirror that will never be used.

Robert Bathurst’s calm performance builds the detail of the relationship effectively, the feeling of their life together and the halving isolation that accompanies the silence she leaves behind. There is physical pain in the central section that focuses on what he has lost, finding a lightness again as he jealously rediscovers her in letters and diaries focusing at last on what remains, to which Bathurst introduces a note of hope.

Emma Birch and Tom Baker’s animation of increasing waves, maze-like patterns and the rediscovered flora of the garden are effective lines drawing backdrops sketched on an exercise book. This narrative tool becomes even more integral to the second play The Song of Lunch which retains the two chair stage design but incorporates the detailed backdrop that shows the changing landscape of London as the eager hero walks jauntily from Bloomsbury to Soho where he meets an old flame. Ana Garcia, Barry Evans and Phoebe Halstead’s animation give context to the first-person narrative, helping to distinguish this second play both tonally and visually from the first.

The directorial hand of Morell is more clearly felt here too, placing his diners at some distance initially to emphasise their semi-stranger status more than 12 years since their last encounter. But in moments of intimacy, the actors circle one another, stand side-by-side and occasionally touch. It creates a fascinating rhythm within the production, reflecting the waves of proximity and separation that mark changes of pace in Reid’s script and is equally full of richly detailed observations and descriptors that spring fully formed from the page.

Again, in the leading role Robert Bathurst’s narrator is filled with lightness and hope as he bounds puppyishly to lunch hoping to stoke the fires of lost love. Yet, his anxiety first at waiting and later as the tone shifts uncomfortably are reflected in accelerated speech patterns and a retreat into himself as the reality fails to satisfy the memory. Bathurst skilfully navigates the protagonist’s increasingly drunken state becoming lost to comic reverie within himself, unable to maintain the distinction between past and present, much to the annoyance of his companion

Rebecca Johnson’s role in both shows is an interesting one, the product of male perspective and conjured almost entirely as a figment of memory. In both she plays with the projection of feminine ideals, graceful, warm, alluring but in quite different ways. And as if conscious of his own creation, Reid gives the wife and then the former lover a reality that starts to intrude on the narrator’s fantasy, as the complexity of the real woman breaks through, and it is the detail, the grounded humanity that Johnson delivers so fully.

These pieces work so well together not only because within hours Reid ended one and began the other, but one thematically, emotionally and stylistically enhances and contrasts the other. As the newly remodelled Riverside Studios, Morell’s productions are filled with admiration for Reid’s descriptive and alliterative writing that uses vocabulary and construction to instantly create characters and scenarios. With vivid performances from Bathurst and Johnson, this charming revival should linger in the memory.

Runs until 17 May 2020

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The Reviews Hub London is under the editorship of John Roberts.The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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