Circa Theatre
June 14-July 19 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

“DEATH to literalism!” proclaims one of the characters in Love Song – and so John Kolvenbach’s play proceeds to buck the literal and tangible in favour of abstract feelings and sensations. Beane (Gavin Rutherford) is an unusual, depressed city dweller with a job he has no attachment to and a lack of possessions. When the pay opens the room is closing in on him (done in this version cleverly with a shrinking square of light and sound rather than a literal closing in of the walls as indicated in the script). Beane’s spirit seems to be embodied in a lamp with a bare light bulb that is flickering fainter. His sole tie to the realm of ‘real’ human emotions seems to be his outwardly successful sister, Joan and her amateur psychologist husband, Harry. But his interactions with them reveal him to be (humorously) pretty far removed from ‘normal’ human responses. The outlook for Beane is looking pretty bleak until Molly, a charming house burglar, bursts into his apartment and discovers he has nothing to steal, except a cup from which he eats all his meals. Beane’s interaction with Molly brightens his world and heightens his senses but makes him appear even more abnormal to Joan and Harry.

Many plays exist which try to explore the complex emotions associated with love. Kolvenbach’s aim in Love Song seems to be to abandon the desire to explain and account for everything; to rationalise love but instead to embrace it. He demonstrates through Beane, played with incredible sensitivity by Rutherford, that everyone’s grip on love and happiness is tenuous and fragile and may not be rooted in rational reality. Erin Banks is his perfect foil as Molly, with her energy and playful fascination with Beane making up for what he lacks. Perhaps too conveniently… She consumes him and takes him hostage in a sense, saying to him “I think a person can have you at gunpoint whether or not you have a gun.” Meanwhile, the enthusiasm of the lovestruck Beane astounds and infects Joan and Harry – they rediscover passions lost to the world of hardboiled professionalism and cynicism. However, they can’t help but wonder if Molly is real… When they puncture his illusions they find they too suffer from the loss of ideal love.

Jolly has directed the play well by moving the action swiftly along during the scenes – we are not given too much time to reflect on them. Some of the scene changes are a little too long and the music that is meant to mask their length tends to draw more attention to them – it feels a little too consciously trendy. The direction of Joan (Danielle Mason) and Harry (Aaron Alexander) in their first scene together onstage felt uncomfortable, with Mason directing most of her lines out towards the audience rather than to Alexander and both employing an overly articulated style. When Beane enters the contrast in their behaviour to his is stark. Fortunately Mason adopts a more natural tone later in the play, rendering the scene late in the play between her and Beane incredibly touching. Alexander has a more difficult role in terms of lack of content as Harry, but he too does a credible job of creating a character with complicated motivations. However, it is the relationship between Beane and Molly that is riveting, and Rutherford and Banks have a believable and intense chemistry.

The set, designed by John Hodgkins serves a number of purposes and successfully demonstrates the contrast between the ‘literalness’ of Joan and Harry’s environment, littered with possessions and the stark emptiness of Beane’s world, in which light and shadow play a dominant part. Here Marcus McShane’s excellent lighting design complements the show perfectly. The music selection felt uneven and sometimes jarred – again I felt like most of it was meant to provide cover for overlong scene changes when I would have preferred the action to keep moving.

In the end it does not matter whether Molly is real or not – that is ultimately not what the play is about. Nor does the speed with which Beane and Molly are consumed with passion for each other require explanation – sometimes these things are inexplicable. It could be said that we all create the ones we love to a certain extent – we certainly see them differently to everyone else. It is about the thrilling but terrifying emotions that accompany love. Kolvenbach’s script is a beautiful and rare example of a play that rings true without being rooted in realism. It was proclaimed as bringing a breath of fresh air to London’s West End when it played there, and the same is true for Circa. Go to see a finely crafted and original play, with dedicated performances.