Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Lovesong top

Andrew Chaplin as the young William with Emma Woodcock as wife Margaret with Derek Lewis as the older Billy and Yvonne Lee as his dying wife Maggie. Pictures: Alastair Barnsley


Highbury Theatre Centre


Abi Morgan’s Lovesong is not the easiest of watches. You reach a certain age and mortality is no longer as distant a destination as it once was.

And for Billy and Maggie the final destination is fast approaching, mortality has become a constant companion. Maggie’s regular visits to the doctor and ever stronger prescriptions are a clue to the future they face . . . and a reminder of the past that has got them there together.

For this is really two plays. First, we have retired dentist Billy, played with a quiet assurance by Derek Lewis, who looks after his teeth for the benefit of palaeontologists and anthropologists – apparently when the rest of us has returned to dust the teeth remain.

He is happily married to Maggie, a lovely understated performance from Yvonne Lee, but perhaps his fussing around her and being too helpful is perhaps too much for all to be well.

And around them, like bodies entwined in an embrace, flow their younger selves, newly arrived in the USA from Britain with Andrew Chaplin as William, outwardly confident, inwardly battling demons, and Emma Woodcock as young, attractive Margaret embarking on a life of peach trees, sunny days . . . and children.

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Maggie now, remembering herself and William back then

As Billy and Maggie slowly, determinedly, complete their journey, reaching their destination in their own time and own way being their only rage against the dying of the light, their memories, their past is relived around them. Two plays on the same stage, one the start of married life, the other the final chapter.

A dying Maggie goes into a dressing room, a young Margaret comes out, at times all four are on stage together, at times they are alone lost in thought or trapped in the past. Billy or Maggie staring into space as a past event emerges from the shadows

The house is packed with memories, but not the ones they desperately wanted, memories of children, playing in the garden and scribbling on the walls. The nearest they get is Adam, the little boy next door they have known since birth, now married with his own children.

All their dreams and hopes had revolved around children that were never to be conceived and there is a sad emptiness in the life that is left with its fear of growing old and "facing one another over a cooling cup of coffee with nothing left to say".

We all have a need to leave a legacy, leave a mark, a reason for being, and children, and grandchildren, and great gran . . . they are our legacy, marking our passing. All Billy has is his teeth.

Over their 40 years of marriage we see financial problems, a little jealousy, even fears of infidelity – a close run thing on at least one occasion.

There are hints that William perhaps has a drink problem, which he seems to have overcome, otherwise why would the dying Maggie be knocking back a remarkably generous vodka as they sit in the garden while Billy contents himself with soda.

The road has not been the smoothest, nor indeed the happiest, at least not until William and Margaret accept the past and its dreams were behind them and embraced what they had, which was an enduring love.

We have two explosions of rage, once from the younger William at the world, his lack of success, his superior friends, or perhaps most of all, his lack of fatherhood.

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Margaret fusses over Adam's baby clothes as an angry William, vodka bottle in hand, argues against getting too close to next door's child while Billy remembers the past

Then the old Billy rages at . . . life as Maggie prepares him for her passing with lists of where things are, arrangements to rehouse Biscuit the cat, reminders to clean his teeth . . . His expletive riddled rant is not so much at her as at her loss. A rage that perhaps says more than the rest of the play can manage about love and feelings. This is emotion, raw, brutal, afraid, angry and powerful.

Their final moments are moving, their final act their legacy.

The play is an unashamed manipulation of the emotions, perhaps at the expense of giving real depth to the characters. We see the past running through the present, each scene bringing then and now closer together, and we feel for their situation – first as a childless couple desperately wanting children, then when Maggie is terminally ill and every moment is painfully precious.

But apart from the little vignettes we never really get to know a lot about them or their lives, not that that makes it any less of an emotional roller coaster.

Director Alison Cahill does well to keep it on the respectable side of maudlin and along with the cast choreographs the various entrances, exits and crossings of characters past and present without a hitch.

Obviously, the effect would be lost if old and young get in each other’s way, or worse, collide. We have to see past and present clearly defined even when they appear together and even, at times, at the same table.

Well acted, well directed and with a good set designed by Malcolm Robertshaw and the director, the result is a thoughtful and moving evening of theatre. To 17-03-18.

Roger Clarke


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