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On Love, The Bedford, Balham – Review

Mick Gordon

Directed by Abigail Pickard Price
★★★★
Pros: Unpredictable and entertaining. Fans of immersive theatre will love it.
Cons: The Bedford is a great venue for comedy and music, but the band playing elsewhere in the venue was distracting at times.
Our Verdict: A gem of a play. Do try and catch it before its run finishes.
Credit: KiteHigh Theatre
What does the word ‘love’ mean to you? The topic has been the cornerstone of the arts for millennia and tomes have written on the subject, but at the end of the day, it is a subjective and universal experience. Successful director and playwright Mick Gordon elected to record the stories of numerous people and shape them into a cornucopia of collected experiences alongside brand new company KiteHigh.
On Love runs in one of the smaller rooms of The Bedford pub in Balham. When I first sat down, I did wonder whether a larger space would have been more suitable for the play. However, I soon realised that the smaller space was no accident. The four actors who would tell their respective anecdotes throughout the play were never more than a few feet from anyone in the audience. What could have been a dry recollection of distant memories became a living, breathing conversation in that intimate space. Sometimes the speaker would address the room as a whole, sometimes to another actor if they were playing another role, and sometimes to a particular member of the audience.
If I was to compare this play with other stuff I’ve seen, what comes to mind is Jim Cartwright’s Two, for the way that the actors within a pub would jump from one character to another with ease, and the work of Conor McPherson, one of my all-time favourite playwrights. In McPherson’s Port Authority, three characters speak to the audience about their respective experiences, telling warts and all without fear of reprise. Likewise, characters in On Love, tell their potentially most embarrassing secrets, with the understanding that the truth has to be told in its entirety if it’s to be understood at all.
The anecdotes told by the actors range from the funny to the downright tragic, and often take twists and turns no one could expect. Each, however, are absorbing in their own way, and it’s a credit to the actors that they could not only deliver multiple lengthy monologues and duologues, sometimes in different accents, but that they could also deliver nuanced performances under the close gaze of the audience.
All the anecdotes were memorable, but notable examples include Hayley Norris and Charlie Haskins as a couple reminiscing how they became an item, Sean McConaghy as a first-time father and traveller around Europe, Rhian Marston-Jones as a daughter with an explosive family secret and Hayley Norris again as a young woman who inadvertently hooks up with her friend’s ex-boyfriend.
Last but not least, a special mention should be made regarding the director, Abigail Pickard Price, who managed to inject energy and insight into the proceedings, and transformed what could have been a one-note regurgitation of words into a dynamic, life-affirming experience. The only thing during the evening that put a dampener on things was the band that was playing elsewhere in the pub. However, this didn’t completely ruin my or the audience’s enjoyment of the show. Overall, On Love was a delight to watch from beginning to end.
Upon leaving, I happened to strike up conversation with a lady in the audience. From what I could glean, she had a passing interest in seeing shows, but not necessarily someone who knows the world of theatre intimately. She really liked it, so that should give you an idea of how accessible the production is!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
On Love runs at The Bedford until 26th October 2013.
Box Office: 07788720909 or book online at http://www.wegottickets.com/kitehightheatre

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