Love Lies, Hope Theatre - Review

Female-led new writing nights are becoming a less of an uncommon event on London's fringe theatre scene. However, the one thing that they have in common is the submissions are often from women from many different backgrounds, who don't necessarily know each other at all. LEMAD (an acronym of Liz Mead, Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson, Mari Lloyd, Mary Ann Pashigian and Daphne Peña) are alumni of the John Burgess playwriting course and between them have clocked up a considerable amount of writing experience over the years. Love Lies – an evening of short plays of their own devising – covers a broad range of topics, often staying well clear of the tropes we usually find in plays about relationships.

Written by Mari Lloyd, What Friends Are For featured Lucy Aley-Parker as Cath and Taha Haq as Anne. Set in a hospital in Liverpool, the ladies capture the repetition and boredom of answering phones all day. To help pass the time during the lulls, they gossip about the love lives of their co-workers. Comparing their colleague's current love interest (found online) with previous, less-than-successful relationships, their initial scepticism slowly gives way to cautious optimism, as the thought of being able to visit their friend in the US takes a hold of them. There is a certain amount of schadenfreude as their colleague's fella proves too good to be true and life goes back to normal. It's all for the best really, not that they would ever admit to the contrary of course... This play is very funny, the dead pan humour so quintessentially English and holds a mirror to our private thoughts versus our public faces...

Catfish, the second play of the evening, was written by Daphne Peña who also played a key role. Worried that daughter Tess (Haq) spends too much time on online dating, Helen (Peña) has arranged for Bob (James Eyres), 'a professional companion' to meet her so that she has some 'real' experience of what men are like. Initially thinking the mother would make a better proposition, Bob's doubts disappear when he and Tess get along like a house on fire. Everything's going swimmingly until Bob and Helen are 'rumbled' by Tess, who recalls a time in the past when her mother set her up with a date... Another funny play, the twist in the tale being that Tess isn't a teenager, but a mature woman who like a lot of tech-savvy people, uses apps and sites to interact with people online. Helen's borderline OCD – hinted at by her daily routine of cutting her names and addresses off envelopes and shredding everything – did much to convey her inner fastidiousness in a non-verbal fashion.

If the previous play had a tangible, cynical edge to the proceedings, Liz Mead's Half  got down to brass tacks, as it looked at a middle-aged couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Played by Lucy Aley-Parker and Neil Summerville, each person confided to the audience about what they thought about their marriage and how they are honestly feeling. 'She' is quick of the cuff by saying, she still has the best of 'him', having him around for events or to help with odd jobs. Going by her description, at best, their relationship could be described as platonic, comfortable, passionless. Of course the burgeoning affair that's on his mind is never destined to bring lasting happiness, but life can't go back to how it was... And for someone who values routine, stability and companionship, her not being invited to the office Christmas party cuts the deepest...

Literature, received wisdom even, says that a mother's love for a child is all-important, but a father's? Lovefool by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson focused on Ben (James Eyres), a young father separated from the mother of his child, who aims to visit his young daughter for her birthday. However, his resolve is eroded by his girlfriend Sveta (Peña), their time preoccupied with the manipulation and embezzlement of the independently wealthy. Can a father genuinely 'love' his child when much of his time is reoccupied with using 'love' as a tool to help fleece affluent women, and whose girlfriend and business partner in this venture wants to monopolise his time in such activities? The play offers no easy answers and leaves much food for thought.

Reel Love by Mary Ann Pashigan is a more light-hearted affair, though manipulation and "who is using who" is very pertinent to this tale. Marty (Neil Summerville) a Hollywood producer wants to work on a new project with Ruby (Haq), but unfortunately for him, he doesn't have has as much leverage as he used to. Ruby’s star, however, is in the ascendency, leaving the audience to sift through the grey areas in their respective use of power and charm to achieve what they really want.

Viewed as a whole, Love Lies is an interesting collection of plays that, to borrow a phrase from Robert Frost, have taken the path less travelled by. While the latter half of the evening perhaps lacked a ‘feelgood’ factor, it more than made up for this with mature work that dared to ask questions for which there are no ready answers, revelling in the ambiguity.

© Michael Davis 2015

Love Lies ran at the Hope Theatre, Islington on 17th, 18th, 24th and 25th April 2016.

Photo: Liz Mead

Author's review: