Three is the magic number for the Royal Court at the moment. Not only is Love, Love, Love the second of its productions to repeat the same word in its title three times, following Vera Vera Vera, the Sloane Square venue is also the first of three London theatres in 2012 to host a Mike Bartlett play, with Chariots Of Fire coming to the Hampstead and Gielgud theatres later this year.
Love, Love, Love is a play of three parts, three eras and three places. Beginning in the 60s, it focuses on Kenneth (Ben Miles), an idle half-dressed youth who will quite literally bend over backwards to avoid leaving the sofa, and Sandra (Victoria Hamilton), a pot-smoking flirt whose ability to fill a silence is admirable.
As the play fast-forwards 30 years, moving from a shabby London flat where the many shades of beige and brown make it impossible to distinguish the furniture from the wallpaper, to a tastefully decorated family home in Reading, it felt like the outcome of an episode of Changing Rooms.
The 90s find the couple married with two children, Rose (Claire Foy) and Jamie (George Rainsford); the ultimate dysfunctional family. Indeed I’ve seen fewer arguments in Albert Square than I have in Love, Love, Love’s second act. If daughter Rose were allowed to rename Bartlett’s play, she would do so Hate, Hate, Hate, and she carries this sentiment through to the final scene.
With perhaps the most impressive scene change of all, creating an impact that is less Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and more Grand Designs, the year 2011 brings the fragmented family together once again. While her parents, now retired, strolled through their younger years on government hand-outs, 37-year-old Rose is struggling to make a living.
Whereas the ambitions of her parents’ generation weren’t hindered by poverty, their unfortunate successors, of which Rose is one, have been left to fight their way through life unaided. Foy’s Rose is more than just a stroppy daughter showing contempt for her parents, she is a resolute figure who is embittered by the discrepancy between their socio-political position and her own. The Beatles’s 1967 hit All You Need Is Love may well be the focal point of the play, but it seems that the band’s earlier hit Help! would more accurately reflect Rose’s situation.
In James Grieves’s production, the transition of time isn’t seen in Lucy Osborne’s set alone. Kenneth and Sandra age an incredible 44 years during the performance, a process that is helped along nicely by a rather large box of wigs. While making the transition from carefree teenagers to mature lady and gentleman, Hamilton and Miles never lose the delightful wit which so endeared them to the audience from the outset. Rainsford’s performance as son Jamie emulates, with a modern twist, Kenneth’s younger self; not only is he a similar burden to Rose as Kenneth was to his brother Henry, he is equally talented at manoeuvring around the couch.
Though we are presented with only three short snapshots within nearly half a century of a family’s history, Bartlett’s play paints a strikingly vivid portrait of the Baby Boom generation and the ramifications on those that followed.
If this is the playwright’s outlook on Britain in the mid-1900s, then I look forward to the opening night of Chariots Of Fire, for which he has delved even further into the past and crossed the English Channel in order to explore the 1924 Paris Olympics. One thing is for sure, if there had been an event for sofa gymnastics, the cast of Love, Love, Love would have quite easily walked away with the gold.