The action of Moira Buffini's new play all takes place in the same spot in an unspecified city over a period of about 2,000 years. That's the easy part. What's harder is trying to gauge what point Buffini's making. Is it that the past reverberates in the present?
Such a notion isn't exactly revolutionary, and it's spoiled further in this instance by the fact that Buffini feels it necessary to artificially introduce it in several of the scenes. For example, characters refer to a mysterious noise (an echo of the rape in the second episode), but that reference is just casually dropped into the plot.
The other big flaw with Loveplay is simply an overabundance of scenes. Just when things are starting to get interesting between some characters, their episode quickly fades away. Disconcertingly, the writer seems to be operating with some sort of checklist: prostitution, lesbianism, rape, homosexuality, virginity, orgies, the whole panoply of love and sex is here - only bestiality is missing.
The sheer number of scenes also requires a brevity that makes some interchanges feel like sketches for situation comedies, but with the jokes excised. No accident then that I kept wondering if I'd stumbled into a second-rate Monty Python tribute show (indeed when a character mentions the Spanish Inquisition in the last scene, I half expected to see Cardinal Fang leap out).
In fairness, many of these scenes are greeted with warm laughter by the (pre-dominantly) young audience, so maybe there's an age divide. It strikes me, however, that Buffini's writing is much better when she writes in a more serious vein. The scene from the age of enlightenment - in which a young woman explores the body of a naked man, having never seen one before - contains a variety of interesting themes that could have been developed further. And the last scene, set in a dating agency in modern London, is the best by far. It could almost have been written as a one-act play in its own right.
Loveplay's six-person cast works extremely hard, playing a variety of parts. Particularly good are Simon Coates, who seamlessly makes the jump from randy MP to repressed vicar, and Niamh Linehan, who delivers, in quick succession, the intrigued natural scientist (and unenlightened virgin), a sated hedonist and a gauche lonely heart. They and director Anthony Clark really keep us rattling along.
Still, I can't help but feel that the evening would have been vastly improved had Buffini tempered her ambitions somewhat and instead trimmed her exploits to a lean three or four scenes.