Time is Love/Tiempo Es Amor – Finborough Theatre, London

Writer/Director: Che Walker 

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Before its air conditioning system was installed a few years ago, one of the drawbacks of attending the Finborough Theatre’s productions was having to endure a stifling heat even in the dead of winter. Those days may be long gone, thank goodness, but writer/director Che Walker’s latest production brings back such memories.

Set in the warmer climate of Los Angeles’ Latin quarter, Walker’s Time is Love/Tiempo Es Amor tells a story of love and betrayal suffused with the sort of explosive claustrophobia that comes with a tight-knit community where everyone knows everybody else’s business, but tries to keep secrets anyway.

Revolving around released convict Blaz (Gabriel Akuwudike), Walker shifts the timeframe between contemporary LA and events three years earlier which led to Blaz’s incarceration. Akuwudike is generally more softly-spoken than others’ discussions of his character might suggest, his protestations about wanting to leave criminality behind frankly more believable than his involvement in the first place.

Walker described the genesis of Time is Love as “what if Desdemona was guilty?” That is played out here as Blaz’s girlfriend Havana (Jessica Ledon) having an affair while Blaz was incarcerated. As with Othello, the dynamic of the central couple is shaped and coloured by the Iago figure: here, that is Benjamin Cawley’s Karl. The relationship between Akuwudike and Cawley is explicitly affectionate, with an undercurrent of eroticism that exceeds that between Akuwudike and Ledon.

Indeed, the role of Havana feels the least developed and least interesting of the lot. Walker is more comfortable placing Blaz with her best friend, Sheila Atim’s engaging lap dancer Rosa, or Sasha Frost’s sex worker Serena, both of whom draw out more of Blaz’s personality than his troubled relationship with his girlfriend can.

Taking several steps back, the tale of tangled love lives, criminality and betrayal might feel like it has been seen countless times before. But the setting, which sees the play’s bilingual characters flit effortlessly between English and Spanish as their tempestuous emotions demand, does feel like it adds a freshness to the tale.

Further embellishing the production is a set of large video projections by Chai Rolfe, the screen enabled by one of the Finborough’s most drastic (and most welcome) reconfigurations of recent years. 

But the real star here is Atim, who supplements a finely balanced portrayal of a character that transcends the stereotypical “tart with a heart” with a separate role as the show’s composer. Her pulsating rhythms are the principal reasons why, in the dull January cold, Earl’s Court is home to a welcome sliver of Latino heat.

Runs until January 26 2019 | Image: DWGH Photos

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