As Robert A. Heinlein said in Stranger in a Strange Land “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” and this is certainly true in Andy Collyer’s new musical “The Verb, To Love” at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington.
Simon (Martin Neely) has just split up with James, his partner of 23 years, and is devastated to find himself single again. James has disappeared from the scene as fast as Banksy once a piece of street art is completed, and Simon has to get on with making a new life for himself. One day at his college, he meets Ben (Gareth Bretherton) a young fellow teacher with whom he strikes up a friendship. Although Simon’s heart goes gooey every time he is in Ben’s company, he is very aware of the age difference between them, and is afraid to let his feelings show. As their relationship develops from ‘just friend’s to ‘friends with benefits’ to ‘very strong friends with awesome benefits’ he still keeps his feelings shrouded in secrecy rather than admit the truth and risk losing what he has with Ben. However, he shouldn’t worry as Ben has the same feelings and the two of them prove their love for each other in the most important way ever. Forget moving in together, getting married or any of that stuff, they change their Facebook status. Of course this wouldn’t be musical theatre without their being some ups and downs in their relationship and we follow their journey – by way of Southend – along the love highway to who knows what destination.
For “The Verb, To love”, Set Designer Nik Corrall has transformed the Old Red Lion’s theatre space into a grassy park with a flower decked hill where what looked like a park keeper was having a snooze by a ‘keep off the grass’ sign. As the lights dimmed, the park keeper awoke and walked behind the hill to transform into the Musical Director for this really impressive show. Described as musical theatre, this is really an opera in a musical theatre style with Martin Neely’s Simon singing virtually the entire story. I have to say, I really liked Simon. He is such a lovely guy, dedicated to Ben in every respect. I get the feeling Simon would cover himself in turkey feathers if Ben asked him to, such is his devotion. That isn’t to say that Simon is some sort of wimpy guy. He has very strong willpower, rebuilding his life after the break-up with James and, despite some highly inappropriate Facebook stalking, he keeps his life together very well despite what life – and Ben – throw at him. Ben himself was the sort of boyfriend I would get. Starts off really lovely then slowly becomes the one in control as his priorities change from his partner to his own career and doing what is right for him. Both actors made these characters seem so real, particularly Martin who thanks to the intimate space of the theatre really had to give his all in his portrayal of Simon.
Andy Collyer wrote the book, music and lyrics for this show and has put together a really well-crafted piece of theatre that Director Jonathan O’Boyle has translated from the page to the stage beautifully, the show running for approximately, one hour, and in a style where each song is individual but is also an integral part of the whole. Although every song worked extremely well, a couple really stood out for me, particularly ‘A Perfect Evening’ and ‘Online Dating’ which got a lot of laughs of recognition from many of the audience. To be honest, I really hope that Andy gets the boys to record a soundtrack album of the show – I would definitely buy it.
The ending of this wonderful show left me frustrated as I was so invested in the story of these two lovely guys that I really wanted to know where the relationship they had established was going to go. As the writer says in the notes to the show, “The Verb, To Love” has two protagonists that are gay, but is not a gay play as such; each and every one of the audience is a potential Simon or Ben. I can’t disagree with that at all – as I could easily identify with one of them and now just need to find my opposite number – and I think if they are honest every member of the audience felt the same which is the mark of superb writing, fantastic acting and a thoroughly awesome play.
Review by Terry Eastham
Aria Entertainment presents The Verb, ‘To Love’
Simon is lost, abandoned by James, his partner of twenty-three years. He is alone for the first time, but then he finds Ben, the Great Love of his life, a young man seventeen years his junior, and finds himself rejuvenated and fulfilled in a way he never knew possible. They share the complications of falling in love, undergoing upheavals, and experiencing change, until it all falls apart; but does it?
The Verb, ‘To Love’ explores, in an intimate sung-through musical, the complications of changing relationships, and the power of different kinds of love; ‘The verb ‘to love’’ has so many meanings…’
Simon – Martin Neely
Ben – Gareth Bretherton
Book, Music and Lyrics – Andy Collyer
Director – Jonathan O’Boyle
Set and Costume Designer – Nik Corrall
Lighting Designer – Derek Anderson
The performance at 2pm Saturday 23rd May is Extra Live!
29th April – 23rd May 2015
Tuesday – Saturday at 7pm
Saturday & Sunday matinees 2pm
Saturday 2nd May 2015