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Love Screens – Open Ealing, YouTube

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Nicolas Ridley

Director: Antony Shrubsall

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, the ability to look back and pinpoint the exact moment when a relationship changed, or life took you on a new and unexpected path. Nicholas Ridley’s trio of plays, Love Screens, airing for one night only, uses different combinations of characters to consider how we remember and rewrite key moments while wondering what might have been.

The first play, Besties in Lockdown performed by Claudia-Sophie Morris-Sheppard, is conceptually the weakest, a single-person monologue unfolding across three scenes in which the central character discovers the limits of her friendships as she is left out of Lockdown Zoom calls and omitted from park meet-ups. The outcome of this story is a predictable one for a woman unable to recognise the effect she has on people.

At just 13-minutes, there is little time to really explore the protagonist’s declarations and her insistence that she is popular, especially with men, suggests a level of delusion tempered by her genuine desire to find love. But why her long-term friends, the placid Zoe, needy Libby and nondescript Helen choose this time to move away from her is less clear. Ridley has an interesting scenario but needs to dig deeper into the speaker’s distortion of reality.

The Trees of Nature is a much stronger work, which utilises the talking head format to create a engaging piece of drama. Running at 20-minutes, Daisy and Simon were friends at school, describing their meetings on numerous occasions in the years after graduation during a love affair that never was. Ridley frames the story as later versions of both characters narrating events and recalling discussions from long ago, but he also uses those memories to create active dialogue between them as director Anthony Shrubsall cuts between the actors to replicate conversation unfolding in real time.

Through this excellent piece, the viewer starts to understand Ridley’s interest in perspective and how several people remember the same events quite differently. The characterisation is strong: the dismissive Simon played by Calum Wragg-Smith whose intense friendship with Daisy is slowly diminished by a series of girlfriends and a fast-paced life in his 20s, while Isabella Inchbald’s sensitive Daisy cares for Simon far more and for longer than he deserves, with both separately evoking the impression of something tangible between them. Ridley’s skill is to make their final reflections both surprising and credible.

The final play, Four Sides of a Triangle, is equally effective as four characters tell the unfolding story of Kate (Sarah Lawrie) and Adam’s (Alexander Jonas) relationship. Mutual friends of Sarah (Samantha Parry), it is the unknown and obsequious Jeremy (Stephen Omer) who claims to have brought them together by making himself a semi-permanent, and resented, presence in their unfolding love affair, and as with the earlier narratives no one sees themselves as others do.

Cutting between four versions of the same story, Ridley again plays with this concept of perspective and how differently events can seem depending on the point-of view. In Shrubsall’s confessional set-up moments of agreement and contradiction drive the drama within the group. Again, it is the strong characterisation that builds the plausibility of Kate and Adam’s relationship, the little differences that initially attract and later force them apart, along with the notes of personality that make the events of the story both vivid and occasionally wistful.

Breaks between the plays are indicated by iPhone footage and a scene in which the actors enter an arts venue which add little to the overall effect, yet while the first piece would benefit from a psychological depth, Love Screens is an impressive collection of stories, thematically and tonally aligned and performed in a similar style against a clean, white background allowing the storyteller and their bittersweet memories to take precedence.

Runs here on 11 September


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