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LOVE (TO) BITS at Barons Court Theatre

Various people of various ages, all voiced by Beatrice Bowden, give their opinions on what they believe love to be. Some are highly articulate, and one or two are completely stumped by the question: ‘What is love?’ Even the New Testament devotes an entire chapter (1 Corinthians xiii) to describing what love is: it’s evidently a complex and delicate subject. Cynthia (Ioana Goga), this show’s central character, takes the audience on her journey to discover true love.

Love (To) Bits - Photographer Mike O.
Love (To) Bits – Photographer Mike O.

The journey itself is, on one level, largely unremarkable. It starts with Cynthia’s thoughts about love at the age of four, and unsurprisingly she holds markedly different views by the age of thirteen. In adulthood she meets Van (Tómas Howser): it’s true, at least in this instance, what they say about young women maturing faster than young men. She wants to meet, to date, to do things together – he would, it seems, rather maintain a commitment to a session of the shooter video game Call of Duty with friends than pay attention to his significant other.

I say ‘significant other’ in the absence of any definitive term from either Cynthia or Van: there is nothing, to the best of my recollection, in the dialogue in which either party explicitly refers to the other to a third party as their boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, sweetheart or anything else. It would seem that the production wants to leave it to the audience to determine what kind of relationship this really is.

Bowden has her work cut out, playing at least ten different characters, and sometimes ‘announcing’ the next scene like a ring girl at a boxing match holding a sign telling everyone which round is about to begin. The analogy doesn’t quite work – she’s fully clothed and has something to say each time, and a couple of them are well into pensionable age. Unusually (for theatre, anyway), Bowden portrays older people by walking on and off-stage as they would reasonably be expected to, without exaggeration, and speaking with clarity and coherence, as opposed to being portrayed with rapidly diminishing faculties in every regard.

A reflective monologue towards the end of the show from Cynthia doesn’t entirely convince – after all (spoiler alert), if she’s had a string of failed relationships, one doesn’t have to be vindictively judgemental to work out who the common denominator is. That said, it is pleasing that she has found a kind of inner peace by doing her own thing as opposed to being attached to someone, though this too, as she readily acknowledges, is not without its challenges, particularly in a pandemic when public health restrictions prohibited meeting with people from other households. (It is, I think, safe to assume Cynthia didn’t work in Downing Street.)

By retaining a relatively open mind, Cynthia subtly – that is, without being preachy – invites the audience to do the same. There are situations in this play that many people can relate to in some way: I don’t, for instance, go away on holiday very often, but I can still relate to having time off work. And who hasn’t had a difference of opinion with someone before? Either despite or because of its near-universality, the show draws the audience into a distinctly recognisable world where it is indeed, as Alfred, Lord Tennyson put it, “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. An emotional rollercoaster but one that results in feeling reinvigorated rather than dizzy, this is a thoughtful and appealing piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Love (To) Bits is a seriously comedic drama or kind of a dramatic comedy; however you choose to look at it, there will be laughter… and some tears. Think of it as if Bridget Jones and Fleabag had a love child. How could you resist that?! The show incorporates verbatim theatre and Brechtian elements.

The play is comprised of two story arcs. The main arc focuses on the romantic life of the lead character, Cynthia, who just loves love, but can’t quite seem to ever get it right. The secondary one showcases different people’s verbatim answers to the age-old question “What is love?”. The two are perpetually intertwined.

The message is very refreshing and needed at the moment, and I left with a smile on my face and feeling a little bit better about the world.” Two Lasses In London.

Listings Information
Love (to) Bits
By Ioana Goga
Barons Court Theatre
28a Comeragh Road
London, W14 9HR
7th to 25th of June 2022

Social Media Details
Twitter: @BaronsCourt_W14

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