Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love at the Hammersmith Lyric – for your ears only

The audio recording of Love, Love, Love begins with a warning of strong language and explicit sexual scenes, then a collage of news footage of the UK’s chaotic lockdown start in March follows, especially difficult for theatres suddenly hanging in limbo: The government did not close them but advised their guests not to go. “Missed it by a couple of hours”, says a woman in one acoustic snippet – so did I when I finally declined my invitation, heartbroken after having reviewed two 5 star shows at the Lyric last year. But since then I moved from West London and would have relied on a train and the Underground to get to Hammersmith, in the very week I was already asked to work from home all Spring.

A picture taken of the Lyric in Hammersmith last year

Another snippet claims about the liveliness and making theatre for audiences: “Theatre is live, you have to be there. Once it’s gone, it’s gone”. Mid-June’s Lockdown Theatre Festival was created in response to the closure of theatres amid the corona crisis and so BBC Radio, as part of the BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine initiative (which included the full length video streaming of Wise Children), staged plays that had their scheduled runs cancelled or cut short radically by the pandemic, including this new production of Mike Bartlett’s play. Hence, we are listening to the play rather than watching a recording or hearing an audio play adaptation, a decision director Rachel O’Riordan made very consciously.

This cynical family saga jumps back and forth between decades spent together, in the audio version only loosely identified by The Beatles or The Stone Roses playing – first I thought Sandra and the mother’s voices were cast far too similar, only realising after a couple of scenes that Rachael Stirling is playing the same character but years apart.

She is meeting her later husband Kenneth while dating his brother in the 1960s, a feminist not afraid of dropping the c-bomb, commenting “all families are boring, that’s why London was invented so you people can move away” – people born here are obviously in trouble… Decades later, when the kids have moved out, outer-material affairs are confessed and divorce is on the cards in a household quoting T. S. Eliott (beyond Cats), Sandra realizes she spends more time on Facebook than her children and utters: “We live in Reading, what has gone wrong?”

I have been to Lyric before just to eat or to have a drink – and never been disappointed

A lot, according to her daughter Rose, now in her late 30s, accusing her parents of not having pushed her enough, of having allowed her to follow her dream of becoming a violinist when instead giving honest guidance should have been their parental duty: Saying she is just not good enough. Tired of seeing her friends’ settling into detached houses and founding families while relying on flatmates from Gumtree, she does not go for the Love and Peace credo her parents claim to have lived: “You didn’t change the world, you privatized it.” The several empty bedrooms in her parents’ houses whose retirement schemes pay far more than her salary disgust her and feeling let down she demands that her parents buy her a house as she concluded that she can never afford one from the artistic career she was encouraged to pursue. Her parent’s counter argument is weak but not wrong: “You were supposed to rebel”, even in the carefree childhood they hope to have delivered.

But Rose is serious about her claim. Her entitled audacity makes me snap and I wonder what the shared reaction at the Lyric would have been, especially on a blogger’s press night I now missed. The finale stays hidden in this audio version, but it does not matter – I am glad I am not related to this tribe, I have already met far too many of them. It’s not my idea of Love and hopefully they will figure out theirs one day.

**** out of 5 stars

BBC Arts’ Culture in Quarantine continues.

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