Lovesong – Civic Theatre – Review
by Paddy McGovern
29 – 30 August
Red ‘n Blue Theatre Company’s production of Abi Morgan’s LOVESONG shows yet again the wealth of first-rate talent and achievement in smaller companies and venues around Ireland. From first impressions (video-projected stills of autumnal glitter, a scatter of decayed leaves) to its sombre, hushed conclusion, the production values are first-class.
Morgan presents the lives and relationships of an old couple as they reflect on their life together, the issues that bound them together or nearly drove them apart, their hopes and aspirations, their disappointments and defeats but ultimately perhaps, their resilience. The youthful William and Margaret (Dylan Kennedy and Jenny Fennessy) are, like their names, worn down by age and experience, to the diminished Billy and Maggie (Sean Ahern and Mary Flavin-Colbert).
The play’s themes of the passage of time (“where does time go…. Time is linear”) and the gap between the enthusiasm and optimism of youth and the bowed acceptance of age are not new. Neither are the tangled emotions encountered along the way: the need for reassurance and love, fear of rejection, anxiety about financial security, a longing for something bigger than – and beyond – the life one has actually lived. What breathes life into these well-worn emotions is the quality of the acting and in this Morgan is very well served.
Fennessy’s Margaret is full of coltish energy, brimming with optimism, uncomplicated in her anticipation of a life of love, intimacy, financial and emotional security with her William – and the family they will raise. She will tolerate her ineffectual and frustrating husband’s ways – though her patience may have its limits. As William, Dylan Kennedy (who also directs) is entirely convincing as a young man with unrealistic expectations (a bit of a Mr Micawber, expecting that something will turn up), looking for security and fulfilment in the wrong places including the bottom of a bottle. His psychological brittleness is all the more effective for being underplayed.
As the young couple’s older selves, Ahern’s Billy mirrors the swings and extremes of the youthful William, with ample scope to reflect on his mistakes and atone for them as best he can. Mary Flavin-Colbert is a superb elderly Maggie, from the “less-is-more” school: let the words do the work, the small gesture, the flicker of expression, the considered pause. The intersection of past and present throughout the play is brilliantly rendered at times as all four actors interact with their partner at the other phase of life.
If there is a reservation about the production it concerns the writing. Situations and dialogue are occasionally repetitive; a judicious trimming of ten or fifteen minutes would help. Morgan is an established writer for television (Brick Lane, The Iron Lady, Birdsong) and seems to carry over from that writing genre an over-reliance on music and video projections to enhance emotion. While such devices are in themselves evocative – and brilliantly executed by Jamie Feehily – they would surely be more effective if used sparingly. At times they were not just superfluous; they were downright intrusive, making one wish for a sound failure. These actors do not need the saucing of such effects.
That is meant as a compliment to them rather than an overreaching criticism of the overall production which more than deserves to be seen as LOVESONG moves to Cork Arts Theatre from September 4th to 14th.