Frantic Assembly, Lovesong Review

Here’s another chance to read our review from Autumn 2 of Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong.  In our forthcoming issue, out 20 December, we talk to the Frantic Assembly team about why education is so important to their company. Get your copy at http://www.pocketmags.com or subscribe at http://www.teaching-drama.co.uk.

Production review:  Frantic Assembly – Lovesong 

Star Rating * * * * (4/5)

Credit: Johan Persson

A slick, emotional journey charting a relationship heading towards a goodbye. More suitable for KS5.

Frantic Assembly take a slightly slower and more sentimental pace than their usual work with Lovesong. The production looks at the life of a relationship from either end, as a pair of younger and a pair of older actors co-habit the same space. We hear their changing conversations from initial excitement, to growing tension and later a sad, foreboding sense of looming loss, as Maggie grows frail with a worsening illness, the sentiment of the tag-line becomes more and more apparent: ‘That is the story of our beginning. And this is the story of…the end’.

The parallel couples share the house as the same kitchen and bedroom walls surround their voices as they grow old together. Theatrically, we dart back and forth through time and the slick direction allows the action to move seamlessly across the decades. At one stage, the older Maggie leans into the wardrobe and remerges played by her younger counterpart. There are brief, wonderful moments where the older characters become aware of their younger selves for a fleeting instant and vice versa, moments which hinge the scenes more and more frequently as the piece develops. Engaging and fluid physical sections, a trademark of Frantic Assembly’s style, move time forward and explore the shifts in the relationship in a beautiful and moving manner. The most memorable saw all four performers disappearing and re-emerging, accompanied by rhythmic music and powerful drum beats which gradually gave way to the sound of Maggie crying, her sobs bringing us back to the reality of her physical pain.

The design of the show and its aesthetic congruence, for me, even outdoes these dignified and integrative performances. The jade green, sky blue and mustard set and costumes were authentic and retrospective. Large, wallpapered, oblong pillars, set at angles at the back of the set were the walls of the rooms of the house and acted as a cyclorama for well-designed and evocative video projection. This allowed imagery and symbolism within Abi Morgan’s text to rise to the surface. The relationship between the performers and these images was exquisite, at one stage, the old man clutches the air as if trying to grab onto one of a flock of starlings that frequently passes over the set and at another, one of the characters touches her kitchen wall as sparks of light radiate from her fingertips to fill the whole space. The production triumphed in its painting of stage pictures that stay with you after leaving the theatre: the older Billy and Maggie sat at the kitchen table, the younger William and Margaret sat on the floor against their bed, surrounded by the heads of hundreds of flowers as the starlings cross the pillars once more.

At the time of going to print, the educational pack was not yet available. However, it can’t be far off and Frantic Assembly is renowned for good quality, accessible resources that are downloadable from their website. Seeing this show made me wish my students were with me. There was so much to get from this experience – a good discussion about the performances (frequently powerful and sensitive, and I’m sure that as they settle into the run and subsequent tour, they will overcome some verbal awkwardness evident on this opening night), an appreciation of how to use design elements in an harmonious way (in order to transport us in time and place and tug at our heartstrings) and an understanding of how a performer can use one’s body and its contact with others to communicate non-verbally. At the end of the performance, I wasn’t in tears as many other audience members were, but, nevertheless, felt touched by the story and the way in which it was told so eloquently.

Lovesong – directed by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett
Frantic Assembly are touring until February 2012.
For more information and to book tickets: www.franticassembly.co.uk/productions/lovesong

by David Duthie.

David Duthie trained in drama and for his PGCE at University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He was the head of drama and performing arts in in Shropshire for six years. He is now the director at The SPACE in Somerset.

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