This pair of stylistically different but equally affecting 50 minute pieces by Christopher Reid are well-pitched to straddle the interface between poetry and drama.
The first, Scatterings, is an ode to a middle-aged man’s late wife. Tender and mournful, its poignancy is somehow elevated by an absence of rage. Robert Bathurst has just the right sonorous tones for the part, and when Rebecca Johnson joins him to enact reminiscences from a holiday in Crete, or later hospital episodes (there’s a gently crushing tussle over the authorship of Northanger Abbey) she provides a perfect counterpart, her forceful personality ironically the livelier of the two characters. Much as Bathurst excels, I missed Johnson when she wasn’t on stage.
As a backdrop to the action, a series of monochrome animations are projected on the back wall. These range from a recurring pattern of waves to a minotaur in a maze and a decomposing elephant, and are absolutely appropriate and unintrusive. You can imagine the same style of artwork being used to illustrate a book version of the poems.
After the interval, The Song of Lunch is a much more light-hearted affair, and the contrast is refreshing. Bathurst is as adept at comedy as drama – which will come as no surprise to fans of Channel 4’s Toast of London, or anyone who saw him in Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell in situ at the Coach and Horses last summer. This story of former lovers meeting for a catch-up lunch is bright and breezy though by no means disposable.
The animation in this piece is more active and literal, particularly as Bathurst’s jaded publisher makes his way from his Bloomsbury office to a keenly remembered Italian restaurant. Johnson’s character is a married mother who seems to have had a more fulfilling life since their affair, but the glimmer of their former relationship sparkles in their awkward exchanges.
I’m not familiar with Reid’s autobiographical poems, so I don’t know if they’ve been adapted for the stage at all, but they are just lyrical enough to make for a beautiful listen while also functioning well as theatrical dialogue. In the hands of two brilliant performers, Reid’s words sing out in an unusual and emotive production that stimulates both head and heart.
Written by: Christopher Reid
Directed by: Jason Morell
Playing until: 17 May 2020
Box Office: 020 8237 1010
Booking link: https://www.riversidestudios.co.uk/book/love-loss-chianti