Mike Bartlett is back on form albeit with one or two of his irritating habits creeping in. I loved his Cock (no I never tire of writing that) but Earthquakes in London left me cold - over reaching, undisciplined and indulgent. So scarred was I that I couldn't bear to see 13 which followed Earthquakes at the National.
His latest to hit London*, Love Love Love, sees him back at the Royal Court but on the big stage and while it is probably about 15 minutes too long and the two interval-inducing set changes a little indulgent the script was sharp and at times laugh out loud funny.
It follows Kenneth (Ben Miles) and Sandra (Victoria Hamilton) from there first meeting in Kenneth's brother's flat in 1967 then jumps to 1990 when they are married with kids Jamie (George Rainsford) and Rose (Claire Foy). The final act sees the family in 2011, the kids are grown up and Kenneth has retired.
As the title suggests love does play its part, whether it can endure and what form it takes. However for me what was more interesting were the musings on societal changes over the 45 years through the characters expectations as to how their lives would play out.
Each seems stuck at a particular point of their lives, with a particular mindset while life has moved on. Kenneth and Sandra, the generation where freedom to do what you want was the mantra are approaching their later years comfortably well off and able to do as they please. Meanwhile Jamie in 2011 still lives at home and Rose is stuck in a low paid job and desperate to own her own home.
It has quite a bleak ending in someways for what is a funny play, in fact I think there was a corker of a line in each act.
All families are boring. That's why London was invented. So you can move away.
Aging your actors by 45 years is always going to be tricky to pull off but it works. As well as the obvious changes in clothes and some greying hair the pace of delivery and gait changes.
Surperb performances from all (although it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Kenneth's brother Henry played by Sam Troughton - a topic that came up in the post show Q&A). Standout for me was Hamilton as the selfish, wine-quaffing Sandra who becomes an almost hellish mother.
In the Q&A director James Grieve said that Bartlett never writes with a point in mind, he writes about a debate that is going on in his own head. Here there was much to discuss afterwards which I'd count as a success whereas previous plays have just felt like the outpourings of an over excited mind.
I'm going to give Love, Love, Love four stars. If you want to catch it you'll have to be quick because it finishes on June 9.
*Love Love Love was first performed at the Drum Theatre in Plymouth in 2010 and toured in 2011.