Pros: A well-crafted production with a smart set gives the story added authenticity.
Cons: A more varied soundtrack would have been helpful.
The Watford Palace Theatre is an excellent venue with a rich history, as proven by an impressive collage of stills covering the theatre canteen. Its décor wouldn’t be out of place in London’s West End, and was the perfect setting for Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran’s latest stage offering Love Me Do. Being a Marks and Gran fan, I was half expecting an out-and-out comedy like Birds of A Feather or Shine On Harvey Moon. What we actually got was a bright, intelligent and witty period drama about Yanks stranded in London during the Cuban missile crisis.
A simple set linked by winding staircases was used to great effect as the story jumped from Kansas to London in October 1962. The early scenes were introduced with the coolest of jazz tunes courtesy of Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Perhaps surprisingly, the Beatles’ debut hit from which the play takes its name doesn’t feature at all; but there are snippets of Buddy Holly and early Bob Dylan, which brilliantly illustrated the growing clamour for nuclear disarmament. The story begins with Dorothy, a girl from Kansas leaving behind her husband and children to attend the wedding of a school friend in London. At the reception, she meets Shack, a charming, cocksure employee of the American Embassy. Shack slowly begins to charm Dorothy as fate throws them together. As the Cuban standoff escalates, it becomes clear that nobody’s going anywhere, let alone America. Shack asks Dorothy to stay with him until the crisis is resolved. As the world holds its breath, Shack acquaints Dorothy with London; they spend a memorable evening at The Establishment, where Alan Bennett and cohorts shine as exponents of political satire. With the two ‘K’s (Kennedy and Khrushchev) hovering over a red button, will the world survive; will Dorothy get back to see her children and will she confess her feelings for Shack?
Love Me Do is a multi-purpose play that informs, entertains and acts as a social document of the most significant decade since the war. The swinging 60s were just about to emerge from the dour, austere 50s and the play finds the right balance between humour, politics and social content that was so characteristic of the era. The cast gave a sterling performance throughout the full 90 minute play without any breaks. Sara Topham gives a perfect turn as Dorothy, no doubt assisted by her native Canadian accent; Robert Curtis is confident and purposeful as Shack; Hugo Bolton as Richard and Rosie Holden as Candice both prove themselves as capable performers; and Peter Clements distinguished himself in a variety of roles including a perceptive reading of Alan Bennett and an amusing rendition of a BBC newsreader.
Marks and Gran did the right thing by not playing this show strictly for laughs. There were moments of humour, but no real belly laughs, which helped the story to develop in the way it did. The soundtrack was equally enjoyable but lacking in depth, frequently using jazz in preference to the myriad choice of guitar bands breaking through at the time. Still, the show is sound in every practical sense of the word. I’m looking forward to seeing this on film and/or TV, as it certainly has the right potential to transfer over.
Authors: Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran
Directors: Brigit Larmour and Shona Morris
Booking until: 18 October 2014
Box Office: 01923 225671
Booking link: http://soap.europe.tickets.com/TicketLogin/login