Let There Be Love
Kwame Kwei-Armah has built a high reputation on the back of a trilogy of large-scale plays looking at the black experience in Britain today. These catapulted the former Casualty star to theatrical fame and a place in history as the first Black British playwright to be produced in the West End, when Elmina's Kitchen transferred from the National.
It is therefore something of a surprise to discover his new comedy, Let There Be Love, which he capably directs himself. This is a tiny, human interest piece that is reminiscent of a sentimental Hollywood weepy.
It is set in the Helen Goddard-designed old-fashioned but comfortable home of Alfred Morris, just up the road from the theatre in Willesden. Morris, perfectly played by Tricycle regular Joseph Marcel, was born in Grenada and left his heart there, but has lived in England for 45 years - almost the whole of his adult life.
He is an irascible old codger who, almost against his better judgement, has driven off both of his grown-up daughters through intemperate rudeness. It eventually transpires that he did far worse to his long gone wife, whom he still loves three decades after they last met.
Just as we are beginning to wonder whether two and a half hours in the company of old Alfred will be too much to take, a new arrival lightens the atmosphere. Maria is a Polish cleaner/carer who makes it past the initial initiation with a broomstick and soon eases her way into the lonely man's heart.
In no time, Lydia Leonard's pretty Eastern European blonde has not only tamed the lion but reminded him of what love, very much platonic, can mean. This becomes increasingly important after the interval, when it is revealed that his mystery illness is terminal.
This new relationship is rather hard on Alfred's daughter Gemma, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster, who can do no right and ends up on the wrong end of a fight every time she comes to visit. Not surprisingly, she resents the Polish immigrant's status as surrogate daughter in her father's house and the situation only gets worse after Maria's boyfriend beats her up.
Having nowhere else to live, she moves into the house and discovers a shared love of music, including the Nat King Cole track after which the play has been named. This is romantically played on a vintage radiogram quaintly named Lily and following a good dose of Nat King Cole, by the end she has also tried out Madonna and The Sex Pistols.
It is the ending that sums up the play's schmaltzy quality, after the fading man is rejuvenated by a trip home to the Caribbean and a meeting with the wife whom he had chased away so long before. However sentimental it might be, the closure is still something that brought tears to the eyes of many members of the opening night audience, which is a compliment to the writer.
Let There Be Love is a simply plotted, enjoyable play that is graced by good performances all round. It is less ambitious than much of Kwame Kwei-Armah's other work but with an amusing and even at times sympathetic central character and a chance to see the interaction of British immigrants from two very different generations and cultures, it is well worth a visit.
Playing until 16 February
Reviewer: Philip Fisher