REVIEW: Love Letters at Theatre Royal Haymarket ★★★

Love Letters is a tender, tragi-comic story of the shared nostalgia, missed opportunities, and deep closeness of two lifelong, complicated friends. A play that could have been written for the Covid era about two people physically separated yet brought together by candid communication and shared confidences, a romance blossoming across the miles and the years.

When the young Andrew Makepeace Ladd III accepts an invitation to Melissa Gardner’s birthday party, Melissa writes him a thank you note… and a unique romantic friendship and delicately warm correspondence destined to last for almost half a century is born.

I saw one of the final preview performances for this show in 2020 and was surprised to see the two cast members reading from scripts and not from beautiful handwritten letters as shown in the pictures shared online. I wondered if this was a one off occurrence and if they were just making sure they had everything memorised for press night. I asked producers about this and they said:

“Love Letters is an unusual piece of theatre in that it is always performed with the actors seated and reading from scripts…..the writer refers to it as a “sort of play”.

The photographs are posed publicity shots, rather than production shots, and the prop letters which they are holding are not used in the production.”

It feels sad that Love Letters was staged in this way (the set was just a black backdrop and two desks at which each performer sat) as if they had notes, letters and cards in envelopes that they opened on stage each time a new conversation was being had, would have really added to the authenticity of the piece. Especially as they obviously had props from when the ‘publicity shots’ were taken. I also thought it was misleading to show images like that when they never planned to use them in the production.

I understand this play is often performed by big name actors because there is little preparation needed as they can just read the letters aloud. However I don’t think this necessarily needs to be done from scripts in ring binders.

The acting by Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove was good and it is a nice little story that is enjoyable to watch. However this production felt more like a workshop than a West End play and with a little love and effort it could have been very good but I just couldn’t see past the laziness of the whole thing.

Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Paul Coltas

Love Letters returns to Theatre Royal Haymarket from 19 May 2021. Click here for tickets