Home » London Theatre Reviews » No Love Songs at Southwark Playhouse | Review

No Love Songs at Southwark Playhouse | Review

I recently bought a new toaster. Now, a toaster is a simple thing, plug it in, put some bread in, set the dial and pull the handle down, easy. But, for some reason, it came complete with a twenty-page instruction book in six languages. The reason I mention this is that everything these days, no matter how simple or complex to operate, comes complete with instructions of some sort. Well, almost everything. Because having a baby doesn’t come with a set of instructions. Oh yes, there will be lots of advice out there, but no handy manual telling new parents what to do when things go wrong, a theme that is explored in No Love Songs which has recently opened at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant.

No Love Songs (2024) Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan. Anna Russell-Martin, John McLarnon
No Love Songs (2024) Photo by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan. Anna Russell-Martin, John McLarnon

Lana (Anna Russell-Martin) and Jessie (John McLarnon) are a fairly normal young couple. They met in a Scottish gay bar where college student Lana was out with pals and saw Jessie’s band performing. And it was pretty much love at first sight for the two, and a relationship develops culminating in the birth of their baby son. At first, they are the typical doting parents. Of course, the addition of the wee man means changes to their lives. Lana has to give up work and college, while Jessie takes every gig going in order to make some money. But their fortunes look like they are about to change when Jessie’s band is offered a tour in the USA. Jessie is ecstatic. The tour will raise their profile and be very lucrative. Lana is not so enthusiastic. She is secretly suffering from Postnatal Depression, and is dreading being alone with the baby. But she is a practical woman and gives her blessing for Jessie to go. As he tours, her depression spirals, until she can see no way out.

No Love Songs is probably one of the most unique pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long while. It has a book by Laura Wilde and Johnny McKnight, with songs by Kyle Falconer and is based on an original idea by real life partners Falconer and Wilde, and it is a powerful and emotional story that takes the audience through pretty much every emotion they have.

Directors Andrew Panton and Tashi Gore, keep the set simple with an assortment of moveable flight cases, speakers and a single keyboard where Musical Director Gavin Whitworth both accompanies the songs and, at times, is a non-speaking but facially vocal member of the cast. The set is enhanced by Grant Anderson’s lighting which adds hugely to the overall emotion of the event. My one gripe is smoke. It’s an obsession with producers and directors, and usually totally unnecessary. Please stop, this show does not need added atmosphere.

The writing is great, the songs wonderful – guess what I’m listening to right now – and the acting absolutely first class. Anna Russell-Martin and John McLarnon own the stage and ensure every person sitting in the audience is totally invested in the story of Lana and Jessie. The two have a real chemistry and as we follow their highs and lows, we cannot help but root for them to have a happy ending. Whilst both characters have a long and emotional journey, Russell-Martin’s is the more traumatic and as she goes from carefree student to ultra-depressed new mother we go along with her. I can’t tell you everything that happens but there were times in Laura’s when my jaw literally dropped and the emotions completely overtook me. McLarnon has his journey too, and he makes Jessie such a loveable guy that you cannot help but feel for him as his life changes. These are very human characters who we see every day in our lives. Dads who cannot face a stinky nappy – that would be me. A mother who can’t hide her amusement at the ‘new age’ antics in her local mother and baby club. These are real people.

And I think that is the real strength of No Love Songs. They are you and me This is a story of two ordinary people trying to go through life without buggering up too badly. Something like 1 in 5 women suffer postnatal depression – that we know of. To my mind, it’s the most illogical thing. Families are meant to be happy and really come together when a child is born. But PND is something that affects the entire family as well as the sufferer and for which there is no one size fits all cure. I’m never going to be a parent and will never be in the same situation as Lana and Jessie but, thanks to a superb story, wonderful songs and incredible acting, for seventy-five minutes in a Southwark theatre I was their co-parent joining them in their trauma. Powerful stuff.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Cast: Anna Russell Martin and John McLarnon

Songs by Kyle Falconer
Book by Laura Wilde and Johnny McKnight
Directed by Andrew Panton and Tashi Gore

Inspired by the real-life experiences of Kyle Falconer (from Scottish indie-rock sensation The View) and Laura Wilde, this powerful story follows two new parents grappling with the challenges of parenthood. Songs taken from Kyle’s hit second solo album are reimagined live on stage, and through a sublime blend of music and storytelling, the audience is taken on a heartfelt journey through tears and laughter as the young couple navigate the ups and downs of their new life together.

Dundee Rep Theatre presents
From an original idea by Kyle Falconer and Laura Wilde
4 to 15 June 2024
Southwark Playhouse Elephant

The Bleeding Tree at Southwark Playhouse Borough


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