Q&A with thanks to Terri Paddock
This is the second production about love that has premiered in London only this week. Neither production resembles what can be stereotypically considered to be associated with feelings of love, of devotion or of the deepest sense of caring. The first, Love at the Dorfman expertly displays an uglier side, a conscious decision to stay together for better or for worse. The second, Buckland Theatre Company’s second production at the Park Theatre this year, revives Murray Schisgal’s original Tony-winning Broadway production and examines how fickle an emotion love can sometimes be. Director Gary Condes and actor Charles Dorfman honour the original era and setting of LUV, reiterating its message in a theatre scene where traditional absurdist plays are seen less and less often.
LUV takes place on a New York bridge where Harry (Dorfman) is set on ending it all; that is until old, estranged friend Milt (Nick Barber) talks him down off the ledge with a solution to his romantic woes. The two agree for Harry to woo, court and eventually marry Milt’s current wife Ellen (Elsie Bennett), leaving Milt free as a bird to run off with his mistress. The plan is so absurd, the era so typical of a repressed female society, nothing can possibly go wrong. Indeed even when outspoken, feisty yet still typical housewife material Ellen appears, Harry and her hit it off straight away. The plan is perfect – until Ellen and Milt realise that the grass on the other side is not as green as it appears.
First and foremost, the most visually striking part of the piece is Max Dorey’s New York backdrop, evocative of romance reconnections between long lost lovers on a bridge at sunset. Contrast this with the absurd mockery that LUV paints of the emotion and there is an immediate insight into Condes’ production. The dialogue moves at a steady pace, relentlessly driving forward to emphasise the dark comedy within Schisgal’s lines. All characters bring out the nuances of their characters and complement the writing well; in particular Bennett – as wife Ellen she is seemingly passed from pillar to post and instructed to fall in love with whoever is more convenient. But, underneath Bennett is fiery, assertive and full of confidence. If she is to fall in love, it will be her choice and ultimately, her mistake.
Both Dorfman and Barker, as the two initial conspirators, add light and shade to the production. Both act as the antithesis to the other; as highlighted through the script, there is a role reversal between the comedic desperation of one and the secure, arrogant strength of the other. This tug of war competition for superiority and simultaneously inferiority allows each character to subtly tip the balance in his favour until ultimately both end up on the edge of the bridge and in the water.
This particular production of LUV is followed by a Q&A session with director Gary Condes and actors Charles Dorfman, Nick Barber and Elsie Bennett. Chaired by theatre guru Terri Paddock, Condes emphasises how Schisgal’s intention is to get people ultimately to laugh at despair, which, judging by audience reaction, is achieved in Buckland Theatre’s interpretation. The show appeals to the Buckland Theatre company ethos – high value shows, small casts, plots grounded in relationships.
Director: Gary Condes
Producer: Buckland Theatre Company
Writer: Murray Schisgal
Design: Max Dorey (Set & Costumes); Christopher Nairne (Lighting); Richard Hammarton (Sound)
Cast: Elsie Bennett; Charles Dorfman; Nick Barber
Runs until 7 January 2017