Bittersweet Lovesong Breaks Hearts at The Lyric

Take a tissue or two, advises our reviewer Liz Vercoe

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Frantic Assembly

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Lovesong, a play by Abi Morgan, rolls into The Lyric Hammersmith from Chichester’s Minerva Theatre en route for Cardiff and Glasgow. Chiswick-based theatre critic Liz Vercoe reviews its first night.

As everyone over 25 knows, inside your head you always feel twenty something, never quite forgetting those hopes and dreams. With Lovesong, at the Lyric Hammersmith, playwright Abi Morgan perfectly portrays this bittersweet relationship with ourselves by intertwining the lives of a couple in their 70s with that of themselves 40 years earlier.

And the production by Frantic Assembly is both modern and heartbreaking. Siân Phillips and Sam Cox play the older couple emptying out the attic of their memories while, emerging dreamily from the set’s wardrobe, bed and refrigerator, Leanne Rowe and Edward Bennett are their younger selves.

The play is set somewhere in America where young English couple Bill and Maggie have decided to start the adventure of their life. He’s a dentist setting up in practice, she the stay-at-home wife waiting to conceive. And at the start, on a stage carpeted with leaves and windfall peaches, love is all they need.

As you’d expect from Morgan, writer of this season’s talked-about movies The Iron Lady and Shame as well as TV’s The Hour, the harsher realities of life are not far away. The dialogue is as sharp as a pin, puncturing the characters’ more hopeless dreams and half truths while holding up the important things in life for us all to see.

It’s totally painful to watch the younger couple struggle with childlessness; their anger and pain and disappointment driving them apart. Sam Cox is superb as older Bill, a successful, retired dentist slightly obsessed with the longevity of teeth. He’s both frustrated by and adoring of his wife of 40 plus years, Maggie.

As you’d expect from Siân Phillips, her Maggie is tough and tender and at times brimming with the barely controlled fear of what lies ahead. She’s one of those rare actresses who can make you feel you are living, rather than just watching, her life. And the Post-its she leaves on the fridge door take on sinister dimensions as they spread and grow across the video screen backdrop to the stage, intertwining with clouds of starlings heralding evening becoming night.

Whether as directed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, or a nervous start, it’s initially hard to see Leanne Rowe’s young Maggie maturing into this resolute, womanly woman but both actor and character appear to grow in confidence through the 90 minutes of the play.

Edward Bennett (who famously took on David Tennant’s Hamlet role when the former Doctor Who actor suffered a slipped disc) fits into Bill’s geeky younger skin without a wrinkle.

The play’s production company Frantic Assembly is famous for its innovative use of movement, music and video. And here these add to the dreamlike quality of scenes when memories become hazy and unfixed.

At times the characters dance their love, passion and despair and although occasionally this intrudes in the telling of story, Leanne Rowe and Edward Bennett are surprisingly balletic. And when the four bodies finally entwine towards the end it says more than words can express.

Don’t expect a happy ending but don’t be depressed. Abi Morgan is great at showing life is what you make it between the bad, sad and mad bits. So anyone who is a sucker for love’s valiant yet foolish attempts to conquer all should take a tissue or two. This is lump in the throat stuff.

Liz Vercoe

Lovesong, suitable to ages 14 +, runs until February 4, with tickets priced from £12.50 to £35. The play runs for 90 minutes without an interval.

Free post-show Q&A 19 and 24 January
Free Lecture Demo following matinee 31 January

For tickets,  call the Box Office on 0871 22 117 29 or book online.

January 13, 2012