There were points during Love Letters when the absence of love letters on stage made me begin to wonder if the show really ought to be called something else. A play of the same name that had a run at Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2020 had two actors on stage reading out love letters, albeit with pathos and precision. Here, however, there is a reason (beyond being lost for words) why Justin (Kit Esuruoso) hasn’t responded to any of the various letters sent by Danni (Dannie Harris), and it’s difficult not to feel some sympathy for him when it is finally revealed.
While the show demonstrates the emotional highs and lows of young love, there’s hope for older people too, in the form of postman Keith (Mike Lloyd) and pub landlady Sheila (Lucy Benjamin). The vast majority of scenes are set in The Perseverance, an Essex pub that has served its local community for over a century but nonetheless has nearby competitors. Somewhat commendably (at least in my books), Sheila insists on retaining her establishment as a “wet pub”, being reluctant to go down the gastropub route.
But the profit and loss account is what it is, and Justin, who initially came to the pub as a schoolboy and ended up persuading Sheila to hire him, uses his gift of the gab again, helping to set up a grassroots campaign to save the pub from being converted into apartments. The pub’s house band, fronted by Gary (Steve Simmonds), glides through an eclectic mix of songs, some more familiar than others, sometimes as loud as pub house bands can actually be.
It is too simplistic to describe this as another jukebox musical with love stories (though admittedly, at face value, that’s precisely what this is). By the interval, I had no idea how the narrative would end, to the point where I didn’t even bother speculating. Suspension of disbelief is neither here nor there when the storylines are as believable as they are here. The harsh realities of life permeate repeatedly. Sarah (Holly Ashton) leaves the pub’s employment, having accepted an offer of a better-paid job. Years later, Keith is unhappy that his hours have been cut back by the Royal Mail. A shouting match between Gary and co-band member Claire (Hannah Price) threatens to turn potential footfall away from the pub.
It is details of that nature, rather than major milestone incidents (although there are those as well) that give the show a real sense of genuineness and relatability for many people. There’s a lot of actor-musicianship to enjoy, and sufficient variety in the selection of songs. Considering this is a show that starts in the late Nineties and finishes in 2021, it doesn’t feel rushed through. Warm and gentle humour keeps things lively and engaging. The production pulls at the heartstrings but is never overly sentimental. An enjoyable and entertaining experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
A brand new musical celebrating the very best of Essex
What happens when an unposted love letter meant to be sent between a passionate young couple dating, only gets delivered sixteen years later? Perhaps it’s time both put aside some regrets and rediscover what might have been – if it’s not too late…
A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch production
by Douglas Rintoul
30 Jul – 21 Aug 2021