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Loveplay at The Questors Theatre | Review

It’s an ambitious play, with the first scene (of ten) set in AD 79 and the last one in 2001. I suppose there is some comfort to be taken in that this isn’t one of those plays that flits back and forth between centuries and millennia. There are some common themes that arise, and not all of them positive. The treatment of a woman in the sixth century, for instance, would not be out of place in the modern world, and in the last scene, when Rita (Lily Baker) is temporarily assigned a different name by Anita (Aleksandra Cedro), it’s not exactly the first time that everything isn’t as it seems.

Loveplay at The Questors Theatre
Loveplay at The Questors Theatre

The play provides snapshots of how the same piece of land is used over almost two millennia. Rita, in 2001, hears sounds that she thinks could be some sort of ghost or spirit. Anita isn’t sure what to make of that – for one thing, she can’t hear what Rita is hearing, and – as she points out – they are in the city centre, where there are all sorts of noises from all sorts of sources. I side with Rita on this particular point: if a nightingale were to sing in Berkeley Square these days, nobody would hear it for all the traffic and construction noise.

It’s not quite as controversial, or indeed provocative, as La Ronde, which is purely about pairs of lovers. Love is presented here in various forms, each more or less appropriate to their setting. With a maximum of five characters in any given scene – all but one has fewer – one never gets the feeling that anything is meant to be wholly representative of a particular era. It’s not clear where exactly this piece of land is: there are no references to any other specific landmarks or nearby places of interest.

Proceedings are brisk, and I am not solely referring to bedroom activity, though Miss Tilly (Marie Maillot) continuing to read a story out loud even after Mr Quilley (River Apparicio) has finished a quickie was mildly amusing. The seven-strong company have thirty-one characters to play between them, virtually all of which are very different from one another. Moments of hilarity appear in almost every scene, although there are some deeper points to consider. As the action takes place either indoors or otherwise out of public sight, the audience is privy to private conversations – and some of what is said is downright unpleasant. Let’s just say there were audible gasps on occasion even from this unassuming audience.

De Vere (Brendan Conlan), an artist very much part of the Decadent movement of the late nineteenth century, persuades his friend Buttermere (Joshua Perry), into doing something a man of the cloth wouldn’t ordinarily do. Dorcas (Katherine Armstrong), not yet versed in the Roman Empire’s ways of trading with currency, can’t fathom why on earth she has to spend time and effort to go all the way to the marketplace with the coin presented to her by Marcus (also Conlan) when her previous lovers just gave her food in the first place.

There’s something for almost everyone here – one patron’s pain will be another’s pleasure. A Shakespeare-esque scene was delightful for me, whilst others may find it rattled on a bit longer than it should have. The audience is sat on two sides of a centre stage, and when characters are positioned at either end (as opposed to in the middle), it’s rather like watching a tennis match as we look one way, then the other, then back again. That doesn’t stop this being an intriguing and engaging production, presented by a versatile cast.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, Loveplay is a captivating contemporary play set in one location, but spanning 2,000 years – from Roman times to the present day. Seductions and sexual encounters take us through ten scenes where people come together, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, in the ongoing search for romantic love and physical pleasure.

Loveplay
By Moira Buffini
Directed by Richard Gallagher
Performed at The Questor’s Studio
25th March – 2nd April 2022

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