Review by Isabel Zakharova
Love is one of the most commonly explored themes in art - be it music, film or theatre. With so many writers, painters, poets and comedians finding endless inspiration from the subject, it can be tough to avoid cliches. And yet, John Kolvenbach’s play Love Song does just that. An offbeat romantic comedy, Love Song is just as chaotic as it is heartwarming. With the combination of a witty script full of endless surprises and strong, nuanced performances, the play is able to tackle an age-old topic with a fresh perspective.
The story follows married couple Joan and Harry, who give the impression that they’ve been together forever. Both with huge personalities, they’re effortlessly comfortable slipping into fond yet passionate arguments, only to start joking with one another seconds later. In complete contrast to these two is Joan’s brother Beane, a solitary, troubled man who doesn’t quite seem to fit in anywhere. But when Beane falls in love for the first time with exuberant Molly, his character is profoundly transformed - bringing a renewed sense of life not just to him, but also to Joan and Harry. It’s a story which celebrates the universality of love, while recognising its often messy and complicated aspects.
Kolvenbach’s script toes the line beautifully between realism and fantasy, and humour and sombreness. Simultaneously dense and fast-paced, it’s the kind of play that demands attention from the audience; blink and you might miss a quick joke or witty remark. With this in mind, as well as the fact that this play is staged in a tiny, very intimate theatre, its success relies heavily on the performances. And the cast delivered in spades. Mel Jensen (Helter Skelter; Speaking in Tongues) brought a lovely strength and tenderness to her portrayal of Joan. Her love and concern for both Harry and Beane was uplifting and believable. Nick Roberts (Antigone; Fear and Misery in the Third Reich) was an absolute standout as frantic but well-meaning Harry, coupling excellent delivery with energetic stage presence. David Hodgkins (Land of the Dead; Love Me Tinder) and Romney Hamiltion (Control; Scarecrow) prove that opposites attract in their touching, authentic portrayals of Beane and Molly, respectively. Under Glen Hamilton’s skillful direction, all of the characters are deeply human.
Apart from the performances, one of the most interesting things about this production was its lighting, designed by Joel Montgomery. Moving beyond simply a mood indicator, the lighting often became an effective plot tool. Before Beane meets Molly, he stares longingly into his lamp - one of the few pieces of furniture in his drab apartment - searching for some sign of life. Shadow is used effectively, as the light bounces onto Beane’s face, illuminating his woeful expression. Happier moments are lit by a warm yellow light from a chandelier hanging centrestage. It’s these sorts of details which really elevate the play’s emotional impact.
It’s refreshing to see a play that finds unique ways of exploring something as universal as love. Never delving too far into any particular message, Love Song is likely going to mean something slightly different to each audience member. But everyone is sure to agree on one thing: Love Song is a truly life-affirming piece of theatre.
Love Song plays at Darlo Drama until Sunday 25th September.
Image Credit: Steven Ljubovic