AR Gurney's Love Letters celebrates the written word in an affectionate staging
“My father says everyone should write letters as much as they can. It’s a dying art. He says letters are a way of presenting yourself in the best possible light to another person. I think that, too. “
It was the New York Times who dubbed the late AR Gurney as the playwright who explored Upper-Crust Anxieties. In his Pulitzer Prize nominated play Love Letters, he uses the epistolatory style to explore the relationship between Andrew Makepeace Ladd III (Martin Shaw) and Melissa Gardner (Jenny Seagrove) who first meet and correspond as schoolchildren and who write letters to each other for all of her lifetime.
It is the perfect piece for lockdown as the script does not have to be learnt and the cast of two can be socially distanced, seated at two very grand desks from which to read their written letters. But more important in the spirit of the isolation dictated by the pandemic is the opportunity to reflect on events and express one’s feelings unburdened by the attitude of the judgmental. It is an approach without pretence, of honesty and truth.
It is also a lot more fun for Melissa than Andy who is rather a conventional stuff shirt whereas she is mischievous and rebellious. It is also a pleasure to see Jenny Seagrove in a playful part but Martin Shaw is the loser here as he represents caution and staid solidity. All too often we see Melissa look bored as Andy expands on his interests or sporting achievements in swimming and rowing. The ultimate expression of her boredom is when she bangs her head on her desk in exasperation and of course this is delightfully comic.
It is Melissa who is emotionally more vulnerable with her parents split and her feeling she has a home in neither place. She is sent away to school, an all girls school that feels like a nunnery. Amusingly she relates news of her stepfather, the atrociously named Hooper McPhail. “My mother’s gotten married again to a man named Hooper McPhail. HELP! LEMME OUTA HERE!”
Later Andy trains as a lawyer and has a career in politics whereas Melissa, rootless pursues artistic ambition. An opportunity to meet up romantically is scuppered when a phone call trumps the slower contact of letter writing. Andy and Melissa diverge on their life path but the letters remain, not as an expression of love between them, more of affection, but a love of the art of letter writing.
Written by AR Gurney
Directed by Roy Marsden
Director: Roy Marsden
Lighting Designer: Will Brann
Sound Designer: Dan Samson
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes with an interval
Reopening at the Haymarket on 19th May 2021 to 13th June 2021
Theatre Royal Haymarket
18 Suffolk Street
London SW1Y 4HT
Phone: 020 7930 8800
Rail/Tube: Charing Cross
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Haymarket
on 11th December 2020