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

student time

Mariel Marcano-Olivier as Sandra, Mark Fletcher as Ken and Daniel Burnham as Henry. Pictures: Alastair Barnsley

Love, Love, Love

Highbury Theatre Centre


We open at the end of the swinging 60s, 1970 to be precise, except they are not so much swinging as more sort of stolid in Henry’s London flat.

Henry is 23 and played with a sort of repressed anger by Daniel Burnham. He is the older, more serious brother of Ken, 19, played by Mark Fletcher.

Ken is a student at Oxford and staying with Ken in the summer vacation which causes some friction as Henry, who never went to university, is working, apparently as a bill poster, paying the rent and bills while Ken lounges around in a poor man’s Noel Coward dressing gown doing sweet FA and contributing . . . to be honest, nothing might actually be an improvement.

As Henry arrives home Ken, in loungewear, is waiting for The Beatles to come on telly singing Love, Love, Love, while Henry is waiting for his new girlfriend, Sandra, to arrive with not so much love in the air as lust, so, he wants Ken out of the flat.

Ooops! Too late! Sandra arrives, flirty, flighty, affected, a little unsteady and a walking advertisement for sex appeal. Did we mention she is also a pothead with a penchant for alcohol and, it seems, men, and  she arrives out of her tree, pretty well stoned.

Mariel Marcano-Olivier brings Sandra to sparkling life with all the expectation and dreams of a brighter, fairer, freer future we all believed in at the time – yes, I was there, in London, and, yes, I do remember it, even if a few bits are a touch hazy.

Writer Mike Bartlett, was still ten years from joining the human race in 1970, so his view of the era of flower power and free love is only second hand, but he grasped the vibes of the time even down to the posh birds, like Sandra, embracing the rebellious lifestyle on offer.

It becomes obvious that Sandra, also an Oxford student, is more interested in Ken, a free spirit (i.e. spending his day in a dressing gown) who likes rock music and smokes weed than classical loving, straightish laced Henry.

So Ken, already sponging on Henry’s reluctant hospitality, takes his girlfriend as well. Not that Ken is a hippy lothario, in reality he is a bit dull, happy lounging around doing nothing not even bothering to get dressed. Free spirit or idle slob? Take your pick.

Sandra is all action, she can’t stop moving, or talking, and confidently embraces everything the 60s offers, but beneath it all you suspect is a rather shallow soul, a dedicated follower of what she sees as fashion.

Move on 20 years to 1990 and Ken and Sandra are Mr and Mrs and Henry is just a mention in passing as an unseen uncle of children Jamie, played by Alfie Fletcher and Rose, played by Julie Cunningham.


(un)Happy families with Rose, played by Julie Cunningham, a gin soaked Sandra, Ken and Jamie, played by Alfie Fletcher  

Sandra has graduated to gin, or indeed it seems anything with a proof rating, so is still unsteady on her feet and it seems also in her mind. The pair are not everyone’s idea, or indeed anyone’s idea of model parents, their latest failing being having missed their daughter’s (fee paying)school concert, arriving at the last minute for her performance on the violin.

They have no idea what their children do, don’t even know their ages and are more concerned with their own lives and careers. Then there are the affairs, one for definite, one maybe never happened but is thrown in just to keep the peace and end an argument, but it’s enough for a marriage meltdown and announcement of divorce with plenty of shouting and screaming in front of their by now fairly well traumatised children, free love it seems has a price after all.

Jamie is apparently very bright and a bolshy 14 year old, or 13, possibly, according to his parents. He has a fractious relationship with his sister, more than the usual rivalry, which in a household where parents scream at each other all the time, he probably sees as the norm.

Rose is 16 the next day (15 according to her cake which appears on her birthday at midnight) and a talented violinist, with personal problems and a need for real parents way beyond the capabilities of Ken and Sandra who see careers and money far more important than family. After the enlightened times of the sixties we are now enveloped in the profit is good eighties.

Jump another 20 years and we are into 2010, we have moved from the dream of the dawning of the age of Aquarius to the reality of the age of austerity.

Ken and Sandra are divorced, she with Clive, from work after an affair that may or may not have happened, he having ended it with his latest partner, and both live in expensive, fashionable houses with pools.

Jamie, now 34, lives, or perhaps more exists, at home. He drinks, smokes – we are not sure what – and could keep a half decent psychiatrist in work until retirement. In short he is a mess.

Rose and Jamie

Schoolchildren no more, Rose and Jamie, now adults, one struggling financially, one mentally

Rose has called the family together for an announcement which it turns out is not happy wedding bells or you are going to be grandparents, as might be expected, but a tirade of anger and frustration.

She is now 37 and struggling to survive between gigs as a jobbing, no more than adequate violinist, with a failed relationship, a struggle to pay the rent on her flat, no savings, no children and no future.

She launches an attack on her parents and their generation, smug with their good pensions, big houses, foreign holidays, comfortable lives all avoiding the austerity, deprivation and struggles they have created and she demands, as a penance, they buy her a house.

She blames them for her own misfortune. She did all her parents asked and look where it got her. Sandra’s trite response was that she should never have listened to her parents, she didn’t and look at her now!

Jamie is out of it, away with the fairies, or probably more demons in his case, Rose, as usual is hardly being listened to, Ken and Sandra are dancing to Love, Love, Love with Ken telling Sandra she doesn't love Clive and suggesting they get back together as the lights and music fades on a family even dysfunctional would struggle to embrace.

On the face of it, it’s a production that might leave you wanting to slash your wrists, but it is a well written play, witty, bitingly so at times, with hints of satire amid the laughs all mixed with moments of sadness.

The ending is, well, unsatisfying. We are left up in the air with Ken and Sandra, as usual, far more concerned with themselves than their children, and their children in dire need of help we know will never arrive and perhaps that is what Bartlett intended. The hopes of a generation twisted and broken leaving the next generation to pick up the shattered pieces with no solution in sight.

Rose’s political blast at her parents had some populist themes, but was a little naïve, and, let’s be honest, Ken and Sandra would struggle to decide on their children’s ages so were hardly going to muster a reasoned socio-political response, especially while they are considering another ride on the matrimonial merry-go-round.

Perhaps we will need to wait until 2030 to see what happens next. What did happen though is that the acting was universally excellent, especially from Mariel Marcano-Olivier and an angry Julie Cunningham in a play which echoed uncomfortably in the intimate confines of the Highbury studio.

Incidentally, the make up between the decades, aging 20 years each time was effective on a set from Malcolm Robertshaw which had small changes to move through the years. Directed by Ian Appleby love will be strained over 40 years to 25-02-23.

Roger Clarke


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