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Love Them to Death – Underbelly Cowgate

I couldn’t get my head around Gemma Johnson (Helena Antoniou): after all, if nobody can love and look after her son Daniel like she can, why doesn’t she take him out of school altogether and home-school him? Perhaps my own upbringing was rather harsh by today’s standards – back then, if you were ill, you were ill, and I wasn’t going anywhere unless I had to be carted off to casualty in an ambulance. If I was well enough to get out of bed and go to see the GP (this was back in the days when it was possible to do that in a reasonable timeframe), I was frankly well enough to get out of bed and go to school.

Love Them To Death - courtsey of Chloe Nelkin Consulting.
Love Them To Death – courtsey of Chloe Nelkin Consulting.

Gemma seems to have so much time to relentlessly write emails and letters and make phone calls to Kelly (Claire-Louise Cordwell), a class teacher in a primary school, as well as the school’s headteacher and the local authority, that one wonders how much time she really spends looking after Daniel. She doesn’t have the time to get a doctor’s note to cover his miscellaneous absences, but she has time to update her lever arch files, full of documentation about Daniel’s apparent illnesses. She is only believable when she says Daniel is lucky to be alive at all, which would be the case if he really did have every disease, disorder and disability she claims he has.

A self-declared “trained nurse”, who, she later confesses, dropped out of her nursing course (Kelly, in what I thought was a move of inspired genius, contacted the Nursing and Midwifery Council to ascertain if they had someone on their register by Gemma’s name – they didn’t), is never too sick and tired to say how sick and tired she is. The narrative tries to present nuanced viewpoints from both sides, with a no-nonsense attitude from Kelly that almost made me wonder why on earth she still works in education if she is as disillusioned as those who have already left the sector are. It’s still easy, at least for me, to determine which side is more believable. It’s a two-hander, and one of the characters lied.

I might have been more inclined to maintain interest if Gemma hadn’t been quite so relentless – the motormouth has no idea when to stop, and likes to accuse others of not listening when she has a tendency not to listen to others herself. It was like listening one of those people who rant on the phone so much that one could leave the phone off the hook and go about one’s business, with that person rambling on for an hour or more before they even notice you’ve long stopped listening. Oh, and Gemma also wants an immediate CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) referral – I almost laughed when Kelly pointed out the waiting time is about four years. Again, I was easily in agreement with Kelly, this time when she suggested that perhaps it isn’t Daniel who needs a mental health check-up. Cue that overdone reaction when someone, in hysterics, declares themselves to be an unemotional person. Sigh.

It brings to mind the comedian (who shall remain nameless here) who once pointed out that every group of friends has someone who is an utter toerag (the actual word used was far cruder than that). And if you don’t think your group of friends has one, the toerag is probably you. In essence, the production captures the obsessive nature of ‘helicopter parents’ well – perhaps too well, as I found it an exhausting and unpalatable watch.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

A mother keeps pulling her ill son out of school. But is everything as it seems? School Attendance Officer Kelly isn’t so sure. Exploring who is telling the truth, how we come to that decision, and whether the truth even exists, most of the time, Love Them To Death is a dark and twisty tale set in the borderlands between love and violence – inspired by real events.

Love Them To Death
Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX
Thursday 4th – Sunday 28th August 2022
https://www.edfringe.com/

Social Media @SFTWshows, @maxdickins, @HannahMAFE
#LTTD, #LoveThemToDeath

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