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Love and Understanding

Joe Penhall
Old Red Lion
(2004)

Joe Penhall is now renowned as the writer of Blue/Orange, one of the best plays of the last few years. He has also written some plays that do not work nearly as well.

Love and Understanding tells the story of the disintegration of love between two stressed, young doctors, Neal and Rachel, played by Luke Roberts and Lucy Barker respectively. The catalyst for their break up is the arrival from America of Neal's old schoolchum, Richie (Sam Gordon).

This man is a drunken, failing journalist who is unbelievably malign and demands board, lodging and a place in bed with Rachel. It is not apparent why the cautious, pedantic Neal would have anything to do with a man like this, nor why Rachel would be anything but repulsed.

This play often seems like a writing experiment. Penhall uses a variety of styles and manipulates his characters with little subtlety. His use of language is also unpredictable, veering from naturalism to the greatly heightened - "When I'm with you, I am a firework".

The trio of actors is not helped by a director who has asked them to speak almost inaudibly for much of the time. There are some moments of promise and interesting ideas in Love and Understanding but they are too few and far between.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher