Reviewed: Love and Understanding

Caroline Gaunt enjoys Green Door’s epiphany production.

Green Door Theatre Joe Penhall Love and Understanding

I had my worries about Love and Understanding, and the first few scenes did little to soothe them. Luckily, Green Door Theatre Company’s production, whilst taking a little while to get into its stride, turned out to be very strong, showcasing some excellent acting and intelligent use of a problematic space.

Joe Penhall’s script turned out to be one of my main causes for concern – oscillating between fast-paced, wry dialogue – in itself challenging – and lines that are so clichéd, pretentious and vague that they make a natural and realistic delivery incredibly difficult.

 

That said, things pick up considerably in the second half and generally the cast do an excellent job of overcoming these hindrances. Dave Myers as Richie, despite a slightly awkward start, is a revelation, at once menacing and vulnerable, terrifyingly manipulative and endearingly helpless. His break of the fourth wall in the second act was simply chilling. Grace Cheatle (Rachel) was similarly outstanding, bringing both impressive naturalism to her scenes and incredible poignancy where it was most needed – her sudden outburst in the hospital scene was incredibly affecting.

 

I felt that Tom Eklid (Neal) was perhaps the weakest member of the cast, descending too often into sarcasm which robbed him of the chance to give Neal a more nuanced characterisation, or to bring any emotional weight to the more sombre scenes. I never really believed in Neal’s dissatisfaction with his profession, or his anxiety over his relationship – lines like ‘I’ve got problems’ become pathetic instead of meaningful.

I had my doubts about whether Chad’s Quad was the best of settings for this kind of production –what is essentially a huge echoing conservatory could easily work against rather than with the actors. Moreover, the acoustics of the Quad mean that careful projection on the part of the actors is vital, yet another factor which threatens to undermine the naturalism of a piece. However, intelligent staging assuaged these worries: director Steffi Walker managed to create a black box setting which perfectly complemented the play’s sense of intimacy and intrusion, and whilst there were a few instances of ‘declaiming rather than acting’ near the beginning, these were ironed out before they became problematic.

 

Scene changes were as slick as they could be, considering the play’s wildly differing locations, and the only criticisms I have to make of the staging itself are minor. The bed, for example, was far too small to accommodate two people: the actors never seemed comfortable in it, presumably because they were trying very hard not to fall out of it. Furthermore, although music to cover the scene changes was a good idea, it would have been nice if the songs had connected to events more palpably, but this is really pedantry in the extreme.

Love and Understanding is an impressive production. Whilst I’m not always convinced of the brilliance of the script, the cast attack it with vigour and conviction which makes for an entertaining two hours.