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No Love Songs – Theatre Royal Brighton | Review

No Love Songs was first seen at Edinburgh’s intimate Traverse Theatre (214 seats) as part of the 2023 Fringe where it garnered many very positive reviews, including one from London Theatre 1. Brighton Festival’s 2024 director, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, has just brought the show to Brighton and installed it in the 966 seater Theatre Royal, which is, unfortunately, not an intimate space, and it just gets lost, even though, as a member of the sparse audience of about 70, I and others tried our best to show our enthusiasm!

No Love Songs at Theatre Royal Brighton. Photo credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.
No Love Songs at Theatre Royal Brighton. Photo credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

It is a two-handed gig musical, based on the true story of Kyle Falconer and his partner Laura Wilde. He is a musician and songwriter from Dundee, where this production originated, and the show tells of Laura’s pregnancy and post-natal depression, not helped by Kyle accepting work in the USA for several months directly after the birth. The book, by Laura herself and Johnny McKnight, tells the story “as it is”, quite bluntly and therefore potentially very involving for the audience. Laura’s role, actually Lana in the show, is, not surprisingly, more fully developed than Kyle’s, especially in this production where Anna Russell-Martin finds some real depth and motivation in the role.

By contrast, Kyle, or Jessie in this version (John McLarnon), is more two-dimensional, failing to even begin to understand what being a father involves, nor having much patience with his partner. His dialogue consists of a great deal of strong language, mostly beginning with the letter “F”, which soon becomes boring, and we find ourselves completely out of sympathy with him, and rooting for Lana who just cannot cope!

The songs by Kyle Falconer are very pleasant to listen to and aid our understanding of both protagonists but unfortunately do not stick in the memory at first hearing. Russell-Martin sings them superbly, demonstrating a very flexible emotional voice and imagination. In his solo numbers, McLarnon is almost equally as good but his enunciation in both music and dialogue is not as precise, even allowing for his broad accent. Both work very well together, and Gavin Whitworth provides excellent accompaniment from the keyboard placed upstage, but set designer Leila Kalbassi has done little apart from having a vast open black space on which are situated a few metal gig boxes and all three participants just seem lost; something much more claustrophobic, which focusses the audience’s attention on what is going on would have been much more effective.

Directors Andrew Panton and Tashi Gore have wisely allowed the show to speak for itself, except in one peculiarity: both performers hold hand mikes which they use for much of the time but have clearly been instructed not to use them for certain passages of dialogue, which means that the ear has to adjust for different levels of volume continually! One sentence may be amplified, the next not, for no obvious reason.

By contrast, Grant Anderson’s lighting seems fussy and often irritating: he uses backlighting a great deal, so that the audience often finds it difficult to see the actors’ faces, but they do not help at times by failing to stand where they should so that their faces are not lit!

There is a powerful show here trying to get out, but it is swamped by the choice of venue. No Love Songs is soon playing at Southwark Playhouse (Elephant) which I am sure will suit it much better!

3 Star Review

Review by John Groves

Jessie – John McLarnon
Lana – Anna Russell-Martin

From an original idea by Kyle Falconer and Laura Wilde
Songs by Kyle Falconer
Book by Laura Wilde and Johnny McKnight
Directed by Andrew Panton and Tashi Gore
Musical Direction and Arrangements by Gavin Whitworth
Sound Designer Ritchie Young
Stage Manager Owen Thomas
Sound Engineer Gabe Kemp
Set Design Stylist Leila Kalbassi
Costume Design Stylist Cate Mackie

Explore the emotions of young parenthood in this new musical from Kyle Falconer (The View), Laura Wilde and Johnny McKnight. Songs from Kyle’s hit second solo album are reimagined live on stage in this honest and urgent theatre show, taking audiences on a heartfelt journey through a powerful blend of music, laughter and tears.

Inspired by the real-life experiences of Kyle and Laura, No Love Songs follows two parents as they navigate their new life as a young family under the weight of postnatal depression, capturing the essence of modern love, parenthood, and the challenges that come with it.

NO LOVE SONGS
Friday 17 and Saturday 18 May 2024, 7:30pm
Saturday 18 May 2024, 2:30pm
Theatre Royal Brighton

Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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