Writer: Gary Owen
Director: Kim Pearce
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Although Shakespeare had quite another meaning in mind when writing his most famous sonnet, after seeing Gary Owen’s new play Love Steals Us From Loneliness, it’s hard not to interpret the half line ‘love is not love’ rather differently. Real modern love is nothing like the perfect fairy tale we’ve been spoon-fed by classic novels, Richard Curtis films and women’s magazines; instead, it’s every day, mundane and often a grim series of compromises between two people who cling together unhappily, afraid of being alone.
Teenager Catrin has drunkenly argued with her boyfriend Lee at the local pub’s Halloween party and stormed up to the graveyard pursued by Scott, Lee’s best friend who has come to mediate. The whole of Act One is a duologue between these two which covers all aspects of modern relationships, teenage culture, expectation and the frustrations of life in a small Welsh town.
Engagingly written by Owen half of it is drunken rambling – as Catrin complains about her pub being taken over by the “Valley Commandos” or the “Townies” ruining her night out – while the rest is a smart interlacing of memories and emotional revelations. What seems like an isolated story, subtly gives the audience considerable context about the lives of the 17-year-old characters where binge drinking and a casual approach to sex have been commonplace since they were 14.
Evelyn Campbell is particularly good as Catrin, weaving between matter-of-fact relationship guru, almost crudely open about her experiences and the fragile unhappy girl underneath, while Rhys Warrington’s Scott is full of teenage enthusiasm and innocence. Yet there is a chemistry between them that becomes more tangible as the scene progresses. But what is particularly interesting is watching the balance of power shift between them during the conversation as we begin to understand the messy ordinariness of real relationships, until Catrin’s heart opens and the audience is left with a cliff-hanger ending.
Act Two takes quite a different approach and it’s sometime after previous events and one of the unseen characters has died. We hear from the mother and sister, as well as slowly discovering the future for Catrin and Scott. Owen uses a variety of techniques here to reveal his character’s grief, guilt and experiences including direct monologues to the audience, text messages read aloud as dialogue and a few dramatised scenes, which makes for an interesting and poignant contrast with the pure drama of Act One.
Interestingly Owen allows these stories to overlay each other, relying on the audience to piece together how the character came to die and what effect it had on a small community of people for years to come – having a non-London setting here is both suitable and refreshing. There is a frankness about Owen’s use of language which feels very real and actually adds greater honesty and meaning in the moments of grief and blame.
Act Two does need some edits, though, as the advertised 120-minute run time including an interval was closer to 150 minutes, with scenes starting to feel superfluous towards the end. There is a karaoke theme with all characters singing that doesn’t add that much, and a section on Catrin’s future unhappy relationship is given more time than is needed to get the message across. But the ending is charming, as the cliff-hanger from Act One is resolved, only now tinged with the knowledge of their future.
Emma Bailey’s set design is a mixture of silver disco and stunning sparkly flower lights that become a shabby wreck as the story unfolds. All the performances are impressive and engaging including Emma-Jane Goodwin as grieving mum, Mags, and Rebecca Jade Hammond as the overshadowed sister Becky, as well as Campbell and Warrington throughout. Love Steals Us from Loneliness is a none-too-positive look at the context and consequences of relationships. Love may no longer be love, but Owen’s play, with a few cuts, has lots to teach us about the expectations and pitfalls of modern dating.
Runs until 31 July 2016| Image: CPT