Love Me Tonight

Nick Stafford

Hampstead Theatre

(2004)

Review by Philip Fisher

Nick Stafford's last play was called Battle Royal and, in many ways, this psychological implosion of a family following loss could have used that title too.

The action, if that is the word, takes place in the Bob-Bailey designed seaside kitchen of the family of young Vincent. It is the night of his wake and, as the alcohol floods and waves symbolically pound outside, four people are desperately seeking peace and catharsis.

Roy (Hugh Ross) and his wife Moira, played by Linda Bassett, haven't slept (or breakfasted) in the same room for thirty years. The implication is that they may hardly have spoken to each other in all of that time either. These two excellent actors portray grief and frustration with harrowing realism, especially Miss Bassett in a monologue towards the end.

They feel incredible guilt, to the extent that they wonder whether Vincent has chosen, with his cancer, to be the scapegoat who will expiate their own sins, more imagined than real.

Daughter Sian (Amanda Abbington) is a healer who cannot heal herself and will not give up dreadful, unseen Ben, despite his pregnant new girlfriend.

Schoolteacher son Stuart doesn't know when his is well off, with a job and his own son, Little Charlie, doted on by all.

This unhappy family finally has a chance to get the veritas of vino in a gruelling couple of hours. Many truths are revealed and by the end, each can see a life ahead that is better than when the play opened.

Under Kathy Burke's direction, the acting is strong, especially from the older couple. Love Me Tonight has some humorous moments but could benefit from sharper editing. There are too many long, slow scenes, as the merits of nature and nurture are debated and wrongs painstakingly enunciated. This kind of self-flaying may not appeal to everyone, although many may identify with the problems of one or more of the characters.