Written and Directed by Ben Webb
Pros: Strong stylistic staging, excellent movement sequences.
Cons: Overly lengthy at times, contains its fair share of stereotypes.
Our Verdict: Enjoyable for people of all walks of life – gay or straight, a piece worth seeing.
The Ovalhouse is a theatrical space in south London which strives to host ‘theatre for people with something to say’, and this is particularly the case for their latest season, entitled if only… In this instance, they host a new production by Ben Webb’s company, Risking Enchantment
. They present Webb’s latest piece of writing The Well & Badly Loved
, which touts itself as ‘a queer extravaganza of love and loss’. A show with a tagline like that was bound to be quite an experience, and The Well & Badly Loved
certainly didn’t disappoint in that sense.
The basic plot revolves around the calf love of a young man, Tom, who falls for Matt. Their love being short-lived, the production deals with the terrible difficulty Tom feels in moving on, and the ways in which his love, or lack thereof, for Matt dominates his life after the rough breakup. The first thing to say about this production is that it is squarely aimed at the gay community as its target audience. This being said, the story of unrequited love is one which resonates just as strongly with a straight audience – heterosexual or homosexual, we all react in fundamentally the same ways when faced with rejection in our love lives. Straight audience members should not shy away from seeing this production.
The script for The Well & Badly Loved is well written and engaging, if a little over the top at times. Part poetry recital, part re-enactment of the stages of Tom’s naive infatuation, the show is staged on a bare set. To tell the story, the actors deliver highly stylised performances. Movement plays a key role in this production, and credit must go to Imogen Knight, the movement coordinator, for using this effectively. One particularly well-choreographed scene springs to mind, when Matt tries to walk out on Tom, who grapples and hangs on to Matt’s limbs in an effort to cling to their relationship. The symbolism in this is obvious, and the sequence was visually stunning.
The performances of the small cast must also be praised, especially Sean Hart in the role of Tom. The role is both very wordy (particularly during the second act, which is a ten-part poem-monologue about the obsessive, naive love Tom still feels for Matt after their breakup), and physically intense. Hart never shows the strain, and delivers an engaging performance throughout. James Murfitt as Matt, and Jonny Lyron, as Jonny, Matt’s ex, also provide excellent, and at times touching supporting performances.
Perhaps the only major criticism which can be given to this play is that it tends to drag on. This transpires at various levels of the production, from individual scenes and sequences (the running scene could have been halved in time without becoming less effective), to whole acts (the second act, the 10-part monologue, in particular could have been shortened). As a three-act piece, it was not easy to stay fully engaged throughout The Well & Badly Loved in its entirety.
All in all, this is a production which is certainly worth seeing, despite it’s occasional lengthiness. Even if it is intended for the gay community, heterosexual audience members will still enjoy the stylistic staging and strong performances.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!
The Well & Badly Loved runs at the Ovalhouse Theatre until 31st March 2012.