Friday, 6 June 2008

REVIEW: "Love"

Ladies and Gentlemen, the trainwreck express is now calling at the Lyric Hammersmith.

After delivering the critically acclaimed Metamorphasis, Iceland’s Gisli Örn Gandarsson and Vikinguk Kristjánsson return to London with a jukebox musical about finding a sweetheart in your 70’s. Packed with more pop-rock standards than a 90’s school disco, Love is a saccharine, predictable mess of a show redeemed only by its charming cast and “Springtime for Hitler”-esque moments of jaw dropping hilarity. Spoilers follow, as Love’s “brilliance” needs to be described in depth to be appreciated.

The show begins (officially, not including an in-character choir session) as a City banker drops off his widow mother at a care home as she can’t tend to her broken arm in the country. Upset about the lack of a private room and confused by all the singing going around, there’s some bickering with nasty nurse Lutka before everyone agrees to try things for the weekend. As our heroine (whose name the RZ can’t remember - but hey, neither could Michael Billington or Charles Spencer and the show’s website doesn’t say) gets settled, she comes across a seemingly spry fellow named Neville. The two quickly fall for each other, and decide to escape into the city rather than face the home’s poor choice of dinner option. We follow them to the Lyric Hammersmith theatre (how clever!) where they see a parody of Chekhov and disappear into the night.

As the second act begins, the mildly amusing but impact-less show takes a turn for the nearest brick wall. The police are at the home, and our City banker returns, berates his mother for being unfaithful to her husband and making him worry before demanding she pack and be ready to leave in the morning. Instead she winds up sleeping with Neville and we get the mandatory “walking-in” scene including a naked man in his sixties (seventies?). When Mr. Banker’s mother holds her ground, the son is sent off through a musical mess of choir practice similar to the first act closing in The Mikado. The protagonist then asks Neville to move to the country with her, but he hesitates before beginning to pack his bags. Our narrator figure (who lives at the home with his mute wife) warns Neville that it won’t work, but he doesn’t care. He prepares to leave and, as our heroine emerges from her room, suffers a massive breakdown from dementia, backed by an Alzheimer’s patient singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

Yes, you read that right. A character suffers a breakdown and an ordinarily mute Alzheimer's patient starts singing David Bowie's "Space Oddity."

Anyways, the woman decides that she’ll see her new love back to mental health and remain with him in the home. Neville does recover, but, as in all fictional relationships involving old or diseased participants, it’s just in time to die for no obvious reason.

Oh, there’s also a subplot about a man attempting (and failing) to woo our main character’s roommate as he walked out on her thirty years prior and wants to start again.

The cast, mostly Hammersmith locals, try their best, and do their best to win over the audience despite the dreadful material. Börker Jónsson’s set, however, is problematic to view from the stalls, as it is composed of low walls (think half height cubicles) to make up the various bedrooms, and it’s difficult to see the cast when they’re behind them and sitting down, which is a good part of the show. Natasha Chivers’s lighting fares better, making good use of a star curtain and an impressive at first but overused light up bouquet of flowers.

It’s hard to really say whether or not the RZ liked Love. He found it extremely funny, for the wrong reasons, yes, but it did actually hammer home a point that people tend to forget - senior citizenss are adults and it’s not fair that we frequently treat them like children, be it out of misconceptions or as revenge for the injustices of our own childhoods. However, the message comes across with all the subtlety of a chainsaw, and the frequently uninspired song choices (including a scene clearly inspired by last year’s TV broadcast of octogenarians singing The Who’s “My Generation,” shamelessly copied here) don’t help. The RZ wouldn’t have had such a problem if Love was merely sympathetic, as sympathy, nostalgia, etc. are universals, but the book is so saptastic that it’s difficult to feel any real emotion.

In the end, it’s unlikely that most people will love Love, and the more you approach the cast’s average age or consider yourself a romantic, the more you’re likely to be sympathetic towards its flaws. For the rest of us, Love is a mercifully short (95 min. including interval) diversion good for a few mean-spirited laughs.

Where: Lyric Hammersmith
When: Until 21 June. M-Sa @ 19:30, 14/21 June @ 14:30
How Much: £13-£27
Concessions: Subscribers, locals, and young company members can get tickets for £5. Some nights are all seats for £9, which is also the student/under-25 rate. All other concessions £10.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £9 for curiosity’s sake. See this before Troilus and Cressida.
RZ Other Notes: The RZ had the fun of getting to the theatre the same night that the tube was thrown into chaos due to the unexploded WWII bomb near Bromley.

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