Lovesong? Didn’t Love The Play

Joanna Alpern reviews Lovesong, the Lyric Hammersmith, London, 30 January 2012Rating: 2/5 Abi Morgan is perhaps the most active up-and-coming writer of the decade and has recently been busying herself with the theme of love both in her screen-plays The Iron Lady and Shame, and in her stage-play Lovesong. But I’m sorry to say that I have not yet fallen in 'love' with her work.Lovesong is a dream-play about an elderly couple, Bill and terminally ill Maggie, as they prepare themselves for Maggie’s approaching death. Scenes are presented in fragments and flashbacks to their younger selves who are tormented by their inability to have children.Before I start, however, I feel obliged to admit that the venue was packed with both young and old enthusiasts of the production. They laughed at the cheap jokes, made hissed intakes of breath when Bill asks Maggie about her affair and she responds with the scandalous ‘I love you more’, and even the red-eyed ushers felt the need to meet the sniffling audience at the end of the play armed with tissue-boxes, somewhat to my bemusement.I must also admit that the writing was at times touching. Bill’s comical yet poetic piece of rhetoric on his refusal to look after himself after Maggie’s death (‘I won’t change my underwear – I will wear the same socks) was delivered wonderfully and was complemented by his carefully, delicately screwing the tops back onto the pill jars which Maggie has just emptied in self-induced euthanasia.Credit must also go to the set designer Merle Hensel, who enabled stage entrances and exits to take place through the bed, the fridge and the wardrobe most spontaneously. This surreal effect was reminiscent of Morgan’s screenplay The Iron Lady, where dementia-sufferer Thatcher hallucinates the presence of her husband throughout the house. (There were other nice nuances between the two works, including Bill’s plea for Maggie to wear her shoes outside, echoing Thatcher’s reminding Denis to wear his coat.)Despite this, I found the production uncomfortably bad. The attempt to capture those cute, special conversations held between lovers in the privacy of their own homes only worked to make these conversations seem really only cute and special to those involved – and cheesy and boring to everyone else. And it didn’t help that Morgan resorted to using arguably the most clichéd image in theatre and cinema when the young Bill and Maggie discuss ‘couples who sit in restaurants and have nothing to say to one another’. Morgan brings further ‘shame’ on herself by recycling this in her screenplay Shame when Brandon and Marianne discuss this same image.And although I am usually welcoming of a bit of interpretive dance, some good songs, and a slide or two in a dream-play, in Lovesong the choreography mostly just seemed like four grown adults sprawling and flailing about aimlessly, the emotionally charged music was overplayed and lacked subtlety, and the random clips of fireflies along with the pointlessly-scattered yellow flowers all over the set were solely indulgence. The directorial choices of Lovesong seemed totally to lack relevance and were really just working to pad out an otherwise vacuous production. Joanna AlpernImage credits – Johan Persson