Love, Loss and Chianti
Robert Bathurst (Cold Feet, Toast of London) stars in this diptych of stories by poet Christopher Reid, which he has adapted, in one of the Assembly Rooms' larger venues, which was pretty full when I saw it, although there were a surprising number of walk-outs, some when it had barely started.
The first story is A Scattering, Reid's autobiographical verse piece written during the three years following his wife's death, exploring his feelings and looking back on the good times as well as the diagnosis, physical and mental deterioration and final years in a hospice with his wife. It is a sincere piece written with a great command of language, but very densely worded so it is hard to take in a lot of what it is saying in performance as opposed to on the page. Rebecca Johnson plays his wife in his flashbacks.
It also feels a little long, perhaps starting to labour the points we've already heard, but that could be partly due to our expectations of a Fringe performance (it runs for 95 minutes), although I've just looked at our review of it in Chichester in 2015 and Sheila Connor also found the evening very long.
The second story, The Song of Lunch, has a completely different atmosphere and gives Bathurst the chance to show his great comic delivery and timing. He plays a middle-aged man who meets an old flame in a restaurant that used to mean a lot to him—though less, we find out, to her, who prefers the refurbished establishment and the attitudes of the current waiters.
He begins by knocking off work early, loving walking through the streets of London past the literary ghosts (which we see, very effectively—more on that later). He hasn't seen his date for fifteen years as she moved to Paris and now has a husband and children, but any ideas he might have of picking up where they left off are dispelled quite early on.
He knocks back rather too much chianti (he is sad it no longer comes in a raffia case) as old enmities come quickly to the surface and it becomes clear that she has changed rather more than him and is less sentimental about their earlier life together. It doesn't exactly end happily after he gets lost on his way back from the toilet.
This second piece works really well as a light comedy, and would have been enough by itself for a Fringe show without the opening piece. Both mention something from Greek mythology as parallel stories: the first Theseus and the Minotaur and the second Orpheus and Eurydice.
Both actors are impressive, but there is a third star in this production that really moves it up a few gears: Charles Peattie's wonderful monochrome animations, which are constantly evolving on the screen behind them, providing a literal backdrop sometimes and at other times illustrating what they are talking about or feeling, such as the labyrinths in the first piece and the white reverse-shadows of ghosts in the second.
This combines with some well-timed sound effects to manipulate the atmosphere around the actors cleverly, however I found the excessive use of side lighting, which produced huge shadows on the walls of the auditorium, quite distracting.
While it could do with having half an hour removed for the Fringe, there is some great writing and very effective and affecting acting, with the animations really turning it into something special if you are patient enough to stick it out past the sad bits.
Reviewer: David Chadderton