You cannot accuse the Mill at Sonning, almost certainly the best supper theatre in Britain, of not knowing its own audience. Ron Aldridge’s That's Love, a sentimental romantic comedy of old age, nostalgic regret, dodgy waterworks and last chance cuddles, is almost cynically devised to press every button on the dashboard of the Berkshire bloomers and blazer brigade.
Luckily, the love birds in question are played by Nicholas Ball and Rula Lenska, both going against the glutinous grain in performances of skilfully projected pain and edginess; Ball is Tony Scott, now dying in a nursing home, who loved and lost Sarah Daniels (Lenska), who in turn was married to the third member of their song and dance act in the 1960s.
The act was the Frank Daniels trio, and Frank (Alan Rothwell) has learned to live with the knowledge of the affair, though that doesn’t stop him turning up in the home to wish Tony a safe, untroubled passage to hell. Sarah keeps popping by, too, which at least diverts Tony from staving off the attentions of an unseen seventy year-old nymphomaniac in a winceyette nightie and fluffy slippers down the corridor.
The air is thick with the totting up of emotional debit and credit, and the rather lop-sided second act ends with a series of short scenes linked by irritating honky-tonk music that suggest a final last fling in the face of mortality. This part of the play needs a full re-write. The overall structure – which includes flash-back inserts of the Frank Daniels trio in full spate proving, alas, that Tony’s assessment of the act (“we were terrible”) is only too accurate – is grimly functional rather than pointedly moving.
A live piano might have helped. The young trio – Jonathan Niton, Monica Nowak (a red-haired Polish younger simulacrum of Ms Lenska) and Simon Turner – over-compensate with teeth and smiles for the forlorn recorded soundtrack of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Anything Goes.” Still, Niton as young Tony discharges some slightly off-colour comedy routines with a suitable disdain and good timing.
Ball’s older Tony is strangely reminiscent of yet another Tony – Hancock - in his stubborn, put-upon self-pity (“I’m leaving my body to science fiction”), throwaway disgust and wryly resentful acceptance of illness, though we never know what that illness actually is. And Rula Lenska’s smoky-voiced serenity and beauty give their scenes together a touching authenticity that a complete dramaturgical overhaul might reveal as something very special indeed.