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Radio Play: Love, Love, Love – Lockdown Theatre Festival, BBC Sounds

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Mike Bartlett

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

In the last few years, the economic and political consequences of the baby boomer generation has been much discussed as their children are priced out of the housing market, have far less job security and a soon-to-be-restricted freedom of movement. A decade on, Mike Bartlett’s play Love, Love, Love, which was playing at the Lyric Hammersmith when theatres closed, examines both sides of the divide, the parents who still think there’s all to play for and their children who know all is lost.

Meeting in the Summer of Love, free spirited student Sandra comes between brothers Henry and Kenneth during an evening in their flat, but it is the latter who unexpectedly catches her eye. More than 20 years later Kenneth and Sandra are falling apart in front of their frustrated teenage children, while in 2011 as the consequences of their lifestyle affects their offspring, both continue to turn a blind eye.

The final performance in the BBC’s Lockdown Theatre Festival, Rachel O’Riordan’s production makes a lively transition to radio as the complexities of the various relationships comes vividly to life. Introducing the play on Radio 3, O’Riordan is right to suggest that having been on stage so recently, the actors give their roles a three-dimensional quality that replicates live performance, and the listener is easily drawn into the story.

A comedy-drama, this version of Bartlett’s play is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, situated somewhere between a naturalistic family conversation and a slightly artificial scenario designed specifically to elicit the inherent ugliness of a generation who had it all but gave little back. Set in three different time periods – 1967, 1990 and 2011 – Bartlett accentuates the oblivious selfishness of parents Sandra and Kenneth who ‘climbed the ladder and broke it as [they] went’.

Bartlett is angry, and using Rose as a mouthpiece in 2011, he rages at the children of the 60s;‘you didn’t save the world you bought it’. O’Riordan’s production plays up the socio-political overtones, building to the major confrontation in Act Three as Rose’s (Isabella Laughland) frustration boils over intensely as she battles against her parents, desperate to cut ties and protect the pensions they insist they have earned.

With so much on the line, it is a shame that Rachel Stirling’s performance as Sandra feels too large for the intimate domesticity of Bartlett’s setting, making it hard to sympathise with her even when she deserves the audience’s consideration. Sandra’s descent from optimistic dreamer who sees a new world opening-up before her to alcoholic, resentful parent forty years later should be rather tragic, yet Stirling pushes too hard all the time, playing Sandra like a soap opera character lurching from one unconvincing extreme to another.

Nicholas Burns’ Kenneth fares rather better, a working-class lad with an Oxford education who manages to develop a convincing relationship with both his children. Subtler in his delivery and building the veneer of a decent man, Burns allows Kenneth’s more egotistical decision to surprise the audience – he and Sandra deserve each other but Kenneth’s true motives are stealthier in Burns’ more rounded approach.

The transition to radio is seamless and, running at around one hour and 50 minutes, the three acts of O’Riordan’s repurposed production race along, capturing the collective sigh of a generation left out in the cold. Written ten years ago, the intervening period hasn’t dimmed Bartlett’s ire and while the more abstemious and serious children of the baby boomers have made little progress in that time, our global world is starting to feel more hemmed in than ever.

Available here until 13 July 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Races along

The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. 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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