Love (National Theatre, Dorfman)

Posted: December 15, 2016 in Theatre

nt-loveThis review was originally written for The Reviews Hub:


As Tina Turner once asked “what’s love got to do with it?”, and it takes a long time for it to dawn why Alexander Zeldin chose to give the title Love to his play about a loveless society. When we hear of homelessness at Christmas, we may think of people sleeping rough who we risk falling over in the street and we may consider those who are given shelter, however basic, to be the lucky ones. So, why should we bother further about the latter category? Zeldin’s vivid, heartfelt play tells us why.

With the Dorfman stage dismantled, the audience merges into and intrudes upon the characters. The house lights remain full on throughout the production and a high wall painted in glaring white and dull grey is decorated with a single framed print in Natasha Jenkins’ bleak set design. This is the interior of a building used as temporary accommodation for homeless families. A shared kitchen space is on one side of a shared living room and a door leading to a shared bathroom is on the other. Two more doors lead to the cramped rooms in which two families get their only limited privacy.

Colin (Nick Holder) is a middle-aged unemployed man living with his elderly, incontinent mother Barbara (Anna Calder-Marshall), making do by washing her hair in the kitchen sink with Fairy Liquid. Dean (Luke Clarke) and the pregnant Emma (Janet Etuk) are a couple with two playful children who have been evicted from their home because they could not afford the landlord’s rent increase and they are facing a cut to their Jobseekers’ Allowance. Both families battle with the Council and the Job Centre, but are frustrated by intolerable delays and a Kafk-esque maze of bureaucracy.

A Sudanese woman (Hind Swareldahab) and a Syrian man (Ammar Haj Ahmad), both refugees living in upstairs rooms, wander slowly in and out of the shared space. They and the two families keep their distances from each other, rejecting hands of friendship as if fearing that they could result in connections which they would forever associate with this place. All six adult actors find the inner desolation of being at the bottom of the social pile, their voices sound tired, their demeanours suggest defeat, but their characters’ human dignity, although challenged, survives

Taking subject matter that could have suited Ken Loach and developing it using methods associated with Mike Leigh, Zeldin and his actors have devised a play that reminds us that social, economic and political forces can conspire against an unfortunate few to leave them in a world such as this, almost void of privacy and purpose, one in which burning a fried egg is the first new catastrophe of a day that will not improve. The children rehearse a school Nativity play and decorate the sterile room with tinsel, but what we see is still an antidote to any form of Christmas cheer.
In the end, love has quite a lot to do with it, the inextinguishable love within both families that sustains hope and fights off despair. Zeldin’s play neither points the finger of blame nor offers solutions, but, slowly and calmly, it sears itself onto our collective conscience.

Performance date: 14 December 2016

Photo: Sarah Lee


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