Review Round-up: Lovesong at the Lyric
Billed as “a new play about lifelong love”, Lovesong intertwines a couple in their 20s with the same man and woman a lifetime later.
Leanne Rowe and Edward Bennett play the young couple, while Sian Phillips and Sam Cox play their older incarnations. Directed by Frantic Assembly’s artistic directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, Lovesong continues at the Lyric until 28 January.
"Although at times it tends to mawkishness, the story of William and Margaret (or Billy and Maggie in their older incarnations) is sensitively told as it navigates the road from marital bliss through midlife crisis to its poignant conclusion. Edward Bennett and Leanne Rowe play the newlyweds, while Sian Phillips and Sam Cox pick up the story 50 years later. It’s a neat, if not exactly original device, made neater by the fluid interchanging of the actors as they pop out from all areas of the stage to perform the most seamless scene changes you’re likely to see … Directors and choreographers Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett organise the action effectively and with the light touch it requires. At the curtain call I found myself surrounded by sniffles – not surprising considering that Morgan mines such a familiarly nostalgic seam. Though Lovesong falls short of the almost industrial heart-tugging of Love Story, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start selling tissues in the foyer."
"The title of this piece is interesting. Love songs so often focus on one element – passion, euphoria, loss – but Abi Morgan’s play, developed together with choreography from Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett of Frantic Assembly, considers love over the long haul … I would have welcomed more astringency and less tugging at the heartstrings. But the sympathy of the piece and the candour of the four performances gradually lift it into a tender meditation on time and our place in it … The drama is at its best when at its most wry, specific or frank: when the older Billy expresses his terror and grief at his wife’s impending death by launching into a tirade, for example. And the physical detail can be very touching: as when Bennett lifts Phillips in a loving duet. It is a gentle, compassionate piece, but would be more moving still if it strove less hard to be so."
"Morgan is stingy with her facts. At the beginning of their marriage, Maggie and Billy emigrate to an unnamed part of America, as if the playwright wants to separate them from family and friends. The times are only lightly suggested when, in what must be the '70s, Billy objects to Maggie taking a job in the local library … While Morgan struggles to avoid sentimentality, the production, with its musical underscoring and evocative images, is less restrained … Apart from the occasional clumsy piece of choreography, Frantic Assembly and Morgan have created a highly emotional, tender piece, in which the intensity is remarkably sustained over 90 minutes. It feels as if one is holding one's breath from the first line to the last. Ageing, memory and the passage of time are powerful themes that affect us all. No wonder it's a case of tissues at the ready."
"The play evokes the ageing process, that lifelong accumulation of molecular damage that's so much more stunning than any such summary can make it sound. It's a tribute to the durability of loving relationships, yet also an honest portrait of their fragility … Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, who share the credits for direction and choreography, create moments of gorgeous physicality. Ian William Galloway's elegant video design is full of swooshing starlings, and there's spacious music to define the mood … But the writing is sometimes vague or twee where it needs to be vivid. The desire to speak generously of universal experiences robs the play of a dense and satisfying specificity … Many people will find it deeply moving, and the subject matter is undeniably poignant. But often Lovesong seems manipulative, intent on pressing buttons rather than subtly nudging them."
"I am a sucker for a tearjerker. I will happily weep at everything from Hamlet to The Snowman. The cheapest manipulation of my emotions will have me snuffling into my hanky. As the darling of the day, no-one but a churl would accuse writer Abi Morgan of cheap manipulation, The Iron Lady notwithstanding. But Lovesong comes perilously close … This being a production by Frantic Assembly, physical theatre is evident in the passages of dance/mime that intrude sporadically. In my view, this is a dreadful mistake, appearing to be tacked on as an afterthought, as if director/choreographer duo Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett lacked confidence in the play to stand up by itself … The performances, especially Phillips, are extremely compelling, however. It takes a fine actress to turn a painfully laboured phone call to a message machine into a heartbreaking soliloquy and she manages it with ease … But the tears passed me by."
"My colleague Dominic Cavendish raved about Lovesong when he caught it on tour last year and it has now arrived in London. It is written by the currently hot Abi Morgan … and presented by the physical theatre company Frantic Assembly, depicting a couple in both the early years of their marriage, and near its end, when the wife is mortally ill. Movement and dance are as important as the dialogue in conveying emotion and there are superb performances from Leanne Rowe and Edward Bennett as the newlyweds, and Sam Cox and Sian Phillips as the oldies awaiting the arrival of the grim reaper. Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett’s production is often deeply moving, potently mixing memory and desire as the young and old couples interact in passages of superbly eloquent choreography. The writing, however, is sometimes flat, lacking the revealing detail that could turn a good production into a great one."
"Like love itself, Lovesong can take your breath away. This collaboration between the writing of Abi Morgan and the choreography of Frantic Assembly's Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett teeters on the brink of mawkishness and pulls away; it takes the ludicrous, the awkward and the improbable and makes them touching. It provokes a higher hankie turnout than any play since War Horse … Leanne Rowe and Edward Bennett, lithe but quarrelsome, are zigzagged together in an embrace. They are broken apart as the mellifluous, sinuous Siân Phillips scythes between them. A jagged dance of pain performed by Phillips is taken up and transformed by the younger couple and by distinguished, haggard Sam Cox. The quartet complete one another's actions and one another: an object passes from old hand to young, from present to past; a gesture or phrase is echoed. Time travel, which is a topic of conversation, becomes an event as the generations meld."