Love, Love, Love

Mike Bartlett
Royal Court and Paines Plough
Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

Victoria Hamilton and Ben Miles Credit: Johan Persson

If it can be written this well on a regular basis, the three-act play with two intervals could make a determined comeback. This theatrical form is now as old-fashioned as the baby boomers who thread their way across four decades through the 2¾ hours of Love, Love, Love.

The cleverness of Mike Bartlett's writing and the point of the play only become fully apparent in the final act. This portrays the sadness of today's university-educated middle class young(ish) who have no money and little hope left as inflation and recession have turned optimism into despair.

The opening act takes place in a dreary Hackney attic belonging to Sam Troughton's straight-laced Henry, a 23-year-old in the mid-sixties who cannot come to terms with The Beatles or free love, much as he would like to.

Somehow, he has pulled pretty Sandra, his polar opposite. This hippyish Oxford undergraduate is four years his junior but has a maturity and knowledge of life that Henry cannot even aspire to. As such, Victoria Hamilton's vocal feminist seems better suited to his laid-back brother, Ben Miles as Ken. As the red plush curtain falls, the world is their oyster.

Act 2 moves us on to The Stone Roses and the eve of Rosie's 16th birthday in 1990. The musical prodigy suffers from the Thatcherite phenomenon of uncaring parents (Ken and Sandra) for whom career is all and the kids little more than minor distractions.

Claire Foy, suitably sulky as beleaguered Rosie, who is unlucky in both love and choice of family, and younger brother Jamie, George Rainsford suffer as parental mind games turn into a familial equivalent of nuclear war.

The degree to which the youngsters suffer from the fallout only becomes apparent 21 years later when the family has escaped the embarrassment of a semi in Reading for something much plusher, designer Lucy Osborne really coming into her own.

This is the home shared by retired Kenneth and his aimless, brainless son, Jamie now in denial of every aspect of modern life.

Rosie has called her feckless parents together from a divorce that seemed odds-on during her 16th birthday celebrations and which has left both rich but unhappy.

The speeches from the women in this final act should really hit home with trendy, affluent Royal Court audiences. First, Rosie bemoans her poverty and a life wasted, in her eyes as a direct result of parental pressure back in the 1980s when you could do what you liked and wealth and happiness were guaranteed.

Sandra's spirited defence of baby boomer selfishness is almost convincing and to those in their sixties probably will be.

Mike Bartlett has written a superb family drama that makes some hard political points in James Grieve's tight production that almost certainly benefits from the loss of half an hour in the lead-up to press night. His real skill is not only to create believable situations but real people whose experiences will be instantly recognisable either as simulacrums of our friends or ourselves.

The acting is strong, with Victoria Hamilton and Ben Miles both ageing convincingly from 19 to 63 but ensuring that their characters remain recognisable throughout.

Love, Love, Love both invents and explores a totally believable couple in considerable depth and makes perceptive comments about the era through which they have made hay while the metaphorical sun shone. As such, it is a perfect Royal Court play that deserves to be a sell-out success and, possibly like its recent antecedents Posh and Jumpy find a subsequent home in the West End.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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