“Whatever happened to the time?” asks one of the characters in Lovesong as they check their watch. The question could serve as the tagline for Abi Morgan’s play of love and loss which follows a couple, Billy and Maggie, from the first sunny days of married life into old age.
In the EUTC production, two actors play each part, portraying both the young pair and their elderly incarnations. Dealing with themes of jealousy, desire, loyalty and fulfilment, it is a play of ambiguity, offering more questions than answers, evasive but still sufficiently thought-provoking.
The set features a bed, a table and a wardrobe, objects of intimacy open to the audience’s gaze. The wardrobe, quite literally of the walk-in varity, doubles as a passageway. As the young Maggie (Arabella Spendlove) enters, her older self (Amy Knowles) leaves, just one example of the way that the production allows characters of different ages to interact with one another with fluidity and to great emotional effect. Similarly, where the young couple are clothed in lively, passionate red, the costumes of the older Billy (Charlie Woolley) and Maggie hang loose, yellow, brown and dull, the pair bathed in dim, almost ominous lighting.
The audience witnesses the characters in physical and mental decline, stooped in posture and slow in speech, a physicality captured especially well by Woolley. They refer to the forty-five year old son of a friend as a “kid”, trapped as they are in the appeal of yesterday. In a cleverly inserted contrast, the younger Billy (George Tomsett) dismisses his forty-five year old boss as “ancient”. Playing a dentist who has moved with his wife to the United States, Tomsett’s performance is the most immediately commanding of the piece, mixing vibrant playfulness with moody threat.
One central element of the EUTC production is the illustration of the passion between the young lovers through occasional interludes of dance, usually to end a scene. The effect is often jarring and awakard, the music and choreography not always working in total collaboration. Once instance where it does succeed, however, is when the older Maggie dances with the youthful memory of her husband, reaching out to touch the younger Billy’s face only for him to slip away.
Knowles has several moments like this during her subtle and touching performance, not least when an extended voicemail message becomes a poignant soliloquy. Her despair at her degenerating body mirrors the younger Maggie’s agony at being unable to conceive, and the performances of Knowles and Spendlove complement and mic one another to excellent efect.
The actors prove to be the biggest strength of a very respectable production which suffers from occasional narrative imprecision — not enough is done to work the American setting into the story — alongside dance sequences of mixed quality.
Image: Cordelia Ostler