LOVE, LOVE, LOVE at the Lyric Hammersmith ‘promised so much more than it delivered’

Written by Mike Bartlett, Love, Love, Love serves up the lives of Sandra and Kenneth in three acts.

We begin in 1967 when they meet as Oxford students, again in 1990 with their teenage children and a disintegrating marriage then finally in 2010 as they settle into retirement.

Nicholas Burns and Rachael Stirling play Kenneth and Sandra as their 18, 41 and 62 year old incarnations. While Burns just about pulls off playing the louche young Ken, drunk on life and the possibilities offered to him courtesy of his full grant and free room in his brothers flat; Stirling is a little uncomfortable to watch, attempting the coquettishness of the young Sandra. She is not helped by clunking dialogue which conjures an image of Bartlett googling “1960s buzz words” and finding a way to cram them all in.

As a set up scene it does well to show us their characters; Sandra is dating Kenneth’s brother Henry (Patrick Knowles) but in fairly short shrift he is dispatched to the chippy while Sandra and Kenneth become better acquainted. Neither of them seems to give him a second thought as they launch into their romance and thus their selfish, self-indulgent characters are established.

23 years later we see the couple living a middle-class life with 14 year old son Jamie (Mark Noble) who has “issues” that are never really developed and their, about to turn 16, daughter Rose (Isabella Laughland).

The second act is dominated by a shouty diatribe from Sandra amidst scenes that give life to the phrase “well, that escalated quickly”. The couple’s selfishness and self-indulgence of the first act are now cemented, visited upon their children, culminating in near tragedy.

The third act moves the drama to 2011, the 62 year old couple are now divorced but come together after a funeral. Stirling really comes into her own as the brittle, vicious Sandra as we learn, not unsurprisingly, that selfish parents produce selfish children. Rose launches her own diatribe throwing a range of accusations at her parents while railing against them for encouraging and supporting her to follow a career as a musician! At 37, Rose is no wide eyed millennial and her rant is just brattish and doesn’t ring true for a woman of that age.

Clearly there is a really interesting story to be told here – the students of the late 60s imbued with the spirit of free love, a changing world and the promise of possibility who thrive in the “greed is good” 80s and their impact on the world around them and their children’s lives, but that narrative is never really developed here.

The End of History at the Royal Court last year explored similar themes much more effectively. In Love, Love, Love, the main characters are so unpleasant it is impossible to empathise with any of them and they are just not interesting enough to be engaging. Plays like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Abigail’s Party have hideous women at the centre, but they are complex characters that one can engage with, disliking them but still interested to see the drama unfold.

I found Love, Love, Love really frustrating as a play as it promised so much more than it delivered.

One area where it did deliver, was the staging. Joanna Scotcher the designer provides three perfect sets for the play. The 1980s colours of the 2nd act in particular, are absolutely spot on. The framing of the stage is very clever. There is also perfect use of music to frame the three years. Mike Noble as Jamie listening and responding to The Stone Roses at the start and end of the 2nd act is just brilliant.


Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Helen Maybanks