Love, love, love - Mike Bartlett's study of the Baby Boomer generation as parents and beyond
“I assumed that our kids would reach heights we never imagined, change the world entirely. . . . . . But look at them. They sit on computers, not living, typing messages about nothing. Watching meaningless videos, and waiting for Friday night, they want to be rich and famous, in fact that”s all they want to be, but they never lift a fucking finger.”
Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love is set over five decades following a baby boomer couple from 19 to 62 through marriage, children and divorce. It’s is the companion piece at an interpersonal level to Bartlett’s play Earthquakes in London which looked at the environment and national issues. Ben Miles and Victoria Hamilton under James Grieve’s direction are charged with believably aging more than 40 years.
Bartlett is such an original playwright. Each play he writes, comes up with a different theme, a fresh look and writing on an aspect of something not touched on before. In this case it is the generational divide between the baby boomers and their children and the economic prospects for each generation.
In the final act Rose (Claire Foy), Kenneth and Sandra”s daughter and a jobbing violinist, asks her parents to buy her a house as she has no prospect of home ownership. She has been encouraged to follow her dream of becoming a professional musician and she just isn’t good enough to make it at the level required in such a competitive field. There is the dilemma. The children of the 1960s have tried to make a more fulfilling life for their children but the economic climate means job prospects are shrinking and they have less than their parents had at their age. And guess whose fault it is, in the blame game?
I first saw Love, Love, Love at the end of its run in Bath in late 2010, too late to review but I liked the play very much. The production at the Royal Court is undoubtedly stronger. However, Victoria Hamilton, who plays Sandra at 19, is a ditsy, marijuana smoking Oxford undergraduate and very, very funny which slightly detracts from and diminishes the serious message of hopefulness and idealism in the student driven intellectual 60s. Bartlett also makes the point that not everyone joined in by having Kenneth’s non university, classical music loving brother Henry (Sam Troughton) losing his rag and his girl to his younger brother, who plays the Beatles song “Love, Love, Love” on his record player.
In the second act (this production unusually has two intervals) we see Ken and Sandra with their teenage school children, Jamie, 14 (George Rainsford) and Rose, 16. They are living in suburban hell in Reading (laughter from the audience). Sandra has a demanding career and a drink habit, Ken, just the well paid job and also drinks a lot and the children are at fee paying schools. There are the usual problems when both parents are busy working and their present to Rosie on her birthday, immediately after they have sung “Happy Birthday” to her, is to tell her they are going to get a divorce. This has been a spontaneous decision not discussed but blurted out by Sandra. This news coupled with Rose’s boyfriend troubles has disastrous consequences. The final act finds Jamie now 35, somewhere on the autism/Aspberger’s spectrum living with his father and Rose now 37 asking to meet with both her parents.
The performances are really, really excellent. James Grieve has managed with wigs and wonderful body language from his cast to distinguish nineteen year olds from 42 year olds and 63 year olds. Ben Miles starts in a Beatles type wig, a shorter hair dark wig and finally his own natural grey flecked hair, but it is their mannerisms and the way they speak, which tell their age. Both he and Victoria Hamilton are well cast with her bubbly personality calming down with the years and her mercurial quirkiness gaining a bitter edge, but she’s still inclined to be outspoken. “My daughter is a genius, she thinks and plays the violin, look at you. “All dressed up”, gushes the mother. “It’s uniform!” says her daughter. There really is nothing selfless about these baby boomer parents. It is all about them. There are details like the expensive i phone which non-earning Jamie is glued to at 35, an inheritance from his hand held game obsessed teenage years as Bartlett’s play balances the rights and wrongs.
Lucy Osborne’s lovely sets sum up the decades and justify the two intervals: the scruffy rooms of the 60s, the brown sofa and affluence of the 90s and in 2011 a beautifully light and large conservatory cum sitting room in Kenneth’s retirement country house. This weekend, I was back at the Royal Court to see another play when I saw the audience going into Love, Love, Love. They were the white, middle class, middle aged, boomer generation. I’d have liked to have heard their collective take on Mike Bartlett’s play. It is easy for each generation to identify with their own but there is plenty of room for thought and empathy inspired by this excellent play.
Love, Love, Love
Written by Mike Bartlett
Directed by James Grieve
Director: James Grieve
Designer: Lucy Osborne
Lighting Designer: James Farncombe
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons
A Paines Plough Production
Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with two intervals
Closed at the Royal Court on 9th June 2012
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Royal Court Theatre
London SW1W 8AS
Phone: 020 7359 4404
Tube: Sloane Square
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Royal Court on 3rd May 2012