Don’t go to Love Song expecting to hear Lady In Red or My Heart Will Go On. From the moment each letter of the title is emblazoned onto a white screen on stage, it is clear that this is no conventional elegy to love. The European premiere of John Kolvenbach's new play is an unromanticised look at love, mental illness and freedom. Clips of contemporary songs punctuate the production, including Can’t Stop This Feeling I’ve Got by Razorlight and The Kooks’s Got No Love. Laura North attended the press night at the New Ambassadors.
The production boasts a clutch of high profile actors. Cillian Murphy has been rising to prominence with starring roles in Batman Begins, 28 Days Later and The Wind That Shakes The Barley. He is joined by Kristen Johnston who twice won an Emmy for TV comedy series Third Rock From The Sun, Neve Campbell who starred in the three Scream movies and Party Of Five, and Michael McKean who has a long history of stage and screen roles including This Is Spinal Tap.
Murphy plays the central character of Beane, a man who is suffering from a mental illness. His sister Joan (Johnston) is a stressed-out career woman living with her husband Harry (McKean). A burglar called Molly (Campbell) mysteriously appears in Beane’s apartment one night and instead of stealing his possessions (of which there are few) she steals his heart. Beane suddenly finds a release from his mental prison and develops an appetite for life, but who is the mysterious house-breaker and where did she come from?
The play opens with Beane, sitting with greasy hair, in the middle of a darkened room. The grimy ceiling and walls physically move towards him while the air buzzes with electricity, creating a shockingly material version of his mental state.
The plot moves to a much cleaner, sharper and brightly-lit kitchen and lounge where Joan and her husband Harry drink wine and trade witty lines, which bounce back and forth like a ball in a tennis game. When Joan says, “…you oppose me for fun, Harry”, he replies: “That’s called talking.” When Beane enters the room unobtrusively, his presence goes unnoticed like a ball boy at Wimbledon. The question count must be one of the highest in the West End, deflecting intimacy and any real answers.
Harry and Joan’s life represents ‘normality’ but Beane makes you question this notion. Harry insists on asking Beane a multiple choice personality questionnaire. What present would he like to receive in a gift-wrapped box: a puppy, a bird, a bunny or a baby? Beane’s shock about keeping a baby in a box prompts him to ask if it is a human baby, followed by various enquiries about whether it can breathe in the box and does it have food. His humane and literal approach deconstructs the questionnaire and makes Harry and Joan seem ridiculous and Beane perfectly sane.
His new found love for Molly not only liberates him but has a similar effect on Harry and Joan. For the first time, Joan rejects responsibility and the two of them create a fantastically comic scene where they “play hooky” and create illnesses to get out of going to work.
Murphy’s performance as Beane impressively conveys the complexities of his mental condition, evident in every inflection of his voice and each movement of his body. When he is in love he has an insatiable and infectious appetite for life but when his mental state is worse, we get a heartbreaking glimpse into how intolerable his life can be.
This is not a conventional love story but it is a funny and serious look at love and the mind.