Playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah has had a busy few months. November saw the opening of Statement Of Regret at the National Theatre, while last night he opened a second new play, which he also directs, at the Tricycle. In contrast to the tubthumping politics of his last play, Let There Be Love is milder-mannered comic drama which, though also addressing salient political points, is filled with a very real emotion, writes Matthew Amer.
There is something about tales of aging that pulls at the heartstrings. It may be the fact that someday it will come to us all, or that most of us have seen relatives struggling against the penalties of time; frailties of the body or the mind, or the loss of those we have known and loved.
In central character Alfred, Kwei-Armah gives us one such aging man. A West-Indian immigrant who has lived in England for the last 45 years, he will not call himself English but rails against other immigrants stealing the English man’s jobs. Cantankerous and curmudgeonly, he resents the fact his children have not grasped the opportunities that he worked so hard to give them, and pushes them away as they try to help him.
They do, however, arrange for home help to check up on him; a young, enthusiastic Pole named Maria, who is initially greeted with a thrust of his walking stick. Yet Alfred can relate to Maria in a way he cannot relate to anyone else; she is living through many of the same experiences he had, and it is to her that he can impart his knowledge.
Joseph Marcell (Alfred) and Lydia Leonard (Maria) build a strong, believable and touching friendship on stage. While Alfred has been described as a black Victor Meldrew, he is much more than that. Marcell gives him balance and poise; he is not just a grumpy old codger, he is sad, angry, resentful and afraid. Leonard’s Maria, by contrast, is a naively cute, eager, optimistic and bouncy home help, bewitched by the wonders of Ikea and Brent Cross.
Sharon Duncan-Brewster, as Alfred’s daughter Gemma, has possibly the hardest job of the night, seeming almost like the gooseberry in the relationship, a spanner in the works. Left out of the love affair – for that, though devoid of any sexual content, is what this is – she is confused and angry, wanting to help her father but not understanding his bile.
Kwei-Armah’s script is packed with warmth and laughter. The rants of Alfred give way to nostalgic tales, and Maria’s stilted English never comes across as patronising. There is a simple delight in hearing Alfred grudgingly correcting her grammar as she tries to explain something far more important. The action is punctuated with music from Nat King Cole, played on Alfred’s old gramophone named Lily, relics of a bygone age to which he clings. Nat has, Alfred tells us, an answer for any question, apart from the final question of all.
Let There Be Love plays at the Tricycle until 16 February.