This Bristol Old Vic Theatre School production of Love Song, by John Kolvenbach, is the second of a showcase of four contemporary plays directed by this year’s graduating directors. It is directed by Sam Ellis and performed in the small theatre located above the Alma Tavern in Clifton, Bristol.
Love Song tells the story of Beane, a forlorn man, introverted and emotionally withdrawn. He lives alone in sparse conditions, with hardly any belongings or clothes, sitting with the accompaniment of a bare light bulb. By contrast, his sister, Joan, is a stressed workaholic, who generally has little perspective on life; except when it comes to the protection of her brother. Beane’s life changes when he meets a burglar in his flat, albeit that she only has a brown paper bag of useless possessions to steal. In “meeting someone”, he is stimulated; he becomes unrestrained and talkative, which in turn relaxes and mellows Joan.
The play is performed and supported by final year acting, design and technical students, and the quality is very good. Frequently funny, both in terms of witty one-liners and darker comic touches, and then stretching the emotions to provide a poignant finale.
Nick Blakely, as Beane, copes with the changes in his character – reserved, contented, distressed – admirably. The audience clearly empathises with the battle of his emotions. Jane Horn is outstanding in the role of Joan, which equally requires an emotional journey, but possibly harder to portray and gain sympathy, given the initial harsh and ruthless character that we see.
Peter Hoggart, as Joan’s husband, is charming and witty in a real all-American, slightly bewildered, way. Eleanor Yates, feisty burglar Molly, and Tommaso Tognotti, a brief comic waiter, complete the cast.
Sam Ellis’s direction should also be commended. He ensures that all the cast perform the comedy with excellent timing, without overly labouring the jokes, such that the narrative continues at a good pace. It could perhaps be argued that an interval interrupts this momentum and the emotional contrasts would be even greater without it.
Laura Clark had the unenviable position of designing a set to accommodate three different locations within a very small stage, which is largely achieved, although clearly difficult to portray the contrast between Beane’s stark and Joan’s more wealthy locations without more space.
Love Song runs until 8 May. The final 2 plays in the season are Debris (11-15 May) and Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me (18-22 May), also at the Alma Tavern Theatre.