Kenneth is a typical 1960s dropout – a student, he likes The Beatles and Cream smokes weed, and knows who Joe Orton is. He’s nineteen, drinks and smokes, and is excited at the changes happening in the world.
When his brother Henry, uptight, responsible, loves classical music, invites his girlfriend Sandra back to his flat, the generation gap of just four years between him and them becomes apparent, with the flirty and free-spirited girl seducing the “decadent” brother.
Mike Bartlett’s play, last seen at the Royal Court, is still uproariously funny in places yet slickly cool in its depiction of a relationship across a span of forty-five years (the same, you may recall, as the film starring Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling that was so devastating a few years ago).
After meeting Kenneth and Sandra on that fateful night in 1967, with all the possibilities of youth, the second act shows them in 1990, comfortably middle-class with the requisite two children, but feeling trapped in their suburban terrace in Reading.
By 2011, they have separate but financially comfortable lives, and their children are paying the price, with 37 year old Rose, a musician, feeling she has wasted her life, and Jamie showing signs of a mental disintegration his parents choose not to see.
Rachael Stirling dials up her performance a notch as the monstrous Sandra, who moves from a stoned teenager to a deadbeat mother and a selfish, grasping drunk. It’s a broad performance but one which draws the eye, easily drawing the attention in each scene.
Nicholas Burns as Kenneth is quieter but no less a product of his time as the baby boomer who sees nothing but money and the leisure to spend it, feeling no responsibility for his actions or the care of his children. It’s a performance which feels believable. He starts out as a rebel but becomes the very thing he despised: respectable.
Straight-laced brother Henry is more problematic, as we only see him in act one, although he is the reason for the family reunion at the end. Patrick Knowles draws our understanding and sympathy as the young man who is out of step with the times, called chauvanist by the newly feminist Sandra and awkward in his own skin.
Bartlett’s text makes a number of political points in his play which are far from subtle, about teenage rebellion, women’s rights, sexual freedom, and the inequality of wealth across generations. These hit the mark, but in a larger than life way.
As the children, Mike Noble and Isabella Laughland convince both as challenging and moody teenagers and as damaged adults. Rose’s constant pleas for her parents to notice her are sad to watch at either age, and Jamie’s devastation at his parents in act two underlines the unsuitably of the couple to be together at all.
Ultimately, Love, Love, Love is the blackest of cautionary comments on relationships, which still feels relevant today. Joanna Scotcher’s period sets, framed as if we are watching a TV screen of the time, are spot on, as are the clever wigs and make-up that make the characters age convincingly.
Love, Love, Love continues at the Lyric Hammersmith until 4 April 2020. Images by Helen Maybanks.
LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Love, Love, Love.