Lovesong, Criterion Theatre, Coventry, to March 21.
Time is not just of the essence; it is the essence of Abi Morgan’s play about the evolution of a marriage from the 1970s to the Noughties. Margaret and William have evolved into Maggie and Bill over those four decades of love and laughter, bitterness and quarrelling.
How did the time fly by so quickly? That’s a question that those of us who’ve been in long-term relationships find ourselves asking as we face the prospect of our little lives being “rounded with a sleep” - sooner than we imagined, perhaps, in current circumstances, although a healthy first-night audience were able to forget about the miseries of a pan-global virus for a while. Any sniffling towards the end could be attributed to emotionally touching scenes, although under Christine Ingall’s direction, the cast steer around the play’s potential for sentimentality.
William and Margaret have moved to the United States full of hope and ambition. He becomes a dentist, she a librarian. Not a mother, however. One of the most emotionally charged scenes comes when Lilian McGrath, who plays the older Maggie, buries her tearful face into the tiny cardigan of a neighbour’s baby.
Johnny Smythe as William moves believably between the warmth of a young husband with an understandable passion for his new wife (Colleen Hedley) and the reflectiveness of one who becomes increasingly liverish as his dreams go down with regular swigs of vodka.
The marriage survives against the odds, however. Rob Wootton’s passions as the older Billy are rivetingly expressed through an emotionally charged and F-word filled speech. This is a man facing a future of “endless cans of salmon”, unwashed underwear and an empty bed as Maggie nears her end.
The set remains the same throughout. Same bed. Same sink and kitchen cupboards. Same black and white framed wedding photograph atop a cupboard of ‘70s vintage. The couple may have been on some exotic holidays over the years, but they’ve never moved on.
Out in the garden is the same peach tree. The four peaches beneath it may well be badly bruised, one imagines. And the starlings that squawk whenever the couple sit out there sound more raucous than ever.
Starlings never were renowned for their tuneful chirpings. And the love song of the play’s title has hardly been harmonious throughout. Yet some relationships survive against the odds, as the final scene shows all too touchingly.
For tickets go to: https://www.criteriontheatre.co.uk/
Barbara Goulden writes: What a great pity this lyrical and beautifully balanced production had to close last night (March 16). Congratulations to all four hugely talented actors as they appeared, and disappeared throughout a 40-year relationship tinged with disappointment but upheld by the power of love to paper over the cracks before applying a more permanent sticking plaster.
Congratulations too, to director Christine Ingall and the ingenious set designers who even include a tree on stage. It would be wonderful if the scenery could stay in place for more performances later in the year. Probably it won't because of pressure from other productions - but my friend and I felt privileged to watch the last of what sadly appears to be just a two night run.