Review: The Invention of Love

TOBY JONES “enjoyed the play immensely, but was left slightly disappointed that rehearsals hadn’t started two weeks earlier.”

ADC Oscar McCarthy Stoppard

The Invention of Love

Alcock Players, ADC Mainshow

“Now is the time, when you are young, to drink the best wine and pick the best fruit…”

I have to say I have a great fondness for Stoppard. Any playwright who can make an audience reflect on the meanings of life, the universe and everything, quote Plato, and make them chuckle all in the same breath has to be something special.

‘The Invention of Love’ follows the scholar and poet A.E. Houseman (Josh Stamp- Simon and Oskar McCarthy) as he reminisces about his rather lonely and loveless life, his academic enthusiasms, his poetry, his friends and his ‘long silences’ on the banks of the river Styx. Like many of Stoppard’s plays the plot is pretty irrelevant. ‘The Invention of Love’ is less a story and more a reflective dialogue, which is at times pretty dense and challenging but don’t let that put you off, we’re at Cambridge, it shouldn’t. (Unless you’re a Land Ec, in which case, fair enough.)
Photos: John Linford

Like any good Cantabridgian I feel slightly queasy when anyone suggests I might like to go and see anything with love in the title. One expects flowery phrases, trite plots, audiences full of teenage girls, Hugh Grant and that bitter sense of injustice that you were forced to watch two hours of what you tell yourself are people looking unrealistically cheerful in unrealistically perfect relationships. Thankfully, ‘The Invention of Love’ has none of these things; it’s actually good, really good.

I am by no means well-read by Cambridge standards but I do not exaggerate when I say that this is the single most interesting play, novel, poem or film I have ever seen or read on the subject of love. The play is quite outstanding. Single or attached, homosexual or heterosexual, young or old, ugly or beautiful, promiscuous or frigid, I can guarantee that provided you have a modicum of intelligence and don’t watch this play after an afternoon in the pub will come away from it with something really rather special. What’s more you’ll come away from it thinking.

One moment that really stuck in my mind as being particularly relevant to so many that I know at Cambridge was when Oscar Wilde (Amrou Al-Kadhi) asks Houseman on the misty banks of the river Styx;

“Where were you when all this was going on?”
Houseman replied: “At home.”

So five stars for Stoppard, but what of the rest?

There we’re, thankfully some excellent performances to do justice to Stoppard’s masterpiece. Oskar McCarthy (Young Houseman) and Jason Forbes (Jackson) both put in impressive and moving performances. Both showed beyond doubt that they were more than worthy of their places on the ADC stage. I also liked Stamp-Simon (who put in by far the best performance I have ever seen him give), Coldwell and Al-Kadhi.

Yet, there were two things that bugged me about this performance. The first was a lack of clarity. Stoppard is hard enough for an audience as it is and can do with out actors who gabble, mumble or have poor diction. There were moments where Ginn, Morland, Frecknall and Hancock-Evans were, despite their talent, almost incomprehensible. It would not matter so much in other plays but, whether down to a lazy director or lazy acting, in Stoppard this is unforgivable.

My second problem lay in the character development. Stoppard had given this director a wonderful opportunity to play with developing some really interesting characters but most of the development, particularly in the smaller parts seemed under-done, missing or misplaced. It rather looked as if Jacob Shephard, for all his talent, had forgotten the comic potential of the smaller roles and left all but the leads to their own devices.

This play is excellent and I recommend everyone to go and see it, but a great deal of its excellence lies in the text and the strength of the lead actors. There is a great deal further to go in the performance of it, more humour, more character to be found. I enjoyed the play immensely, but I was left slightly disappointed that rehearsals hadn’t started two weeks earlier.