As a Londoner born and bred I like to visit new arts venues and marvel at the extraordinary transformations that are happening all over this great city. The new Riverside Studios which opened in October 2019 take up the entire ground floor of a residential apartment block facing the Thames fifty metres from Hammersmith Bridge. A large foyer doubles as an art gallery, leading off are two theatres, two cinemas, a cafe, a restaurant, a free cloakroom and plenty of toilets. A wonderful addition to London’s cultural life. Well worth a visit.
Last night I saw Love, Loss & Chianti. The big draw is Robert Bathurst (Coldfeet, Downton Abbey). Written by Christopher Reid it’s a double bill; A Scattering and The Song of Lunch. Both 50 minutes both two-handers, both acted by Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson. For 26 years Reid was married to the actress Lucinda Gane until she died in 2005. This led to three years of grief during which he wrote to preserve her memory. Originally poems, Bathurst was so taken with them that he has adapted them for the stage. Do they work?
Well yes and no. Reid is both a poet and an ex-editor at Faber & Faber. He is a very well educated and cultured person steeped in the classics, music, literature and art. He is particularly attuned to the nuances of language and so writes witty, complex and knowing sentences full of rich allusions and references. This gives both pieces a cultural richness which those in the know will find deeply amusing and delightful. The problem is that it can at times become a parody of itself and end up sounding like the Pseuds corner column in Private Eye. He is a good poet but not a natural dramatist and so the pieces become a series of dramatic monologues strung together without dramatic structure. I would love to read the original poems at my leisure and savour every word, line and image. Spoken on stage everything happens so fast that one simply becomes overwhelmed.
The hectic pace is compounded by both the animations projected onto the stage set which at times made me dizzy. I felt that Bathurst rushed his lines occasionally and this unfortunately added to my feelings of loss. Reid himself referenced the “male gaze” in The Song of Lunch, and he is definitely a male writer. This is most obvious in his writing for the female parts. In the first, A Scattering, Rebecca leaves the stage after 20 minutes and has few lines. In the second, she only appears 20 minutes into the piece, spends most of the time as an object of her admirer’s sexual fantasies and has one big speech in which she rants and shouts. So writing for women does not appear to be Reid’s forte.
Having said that, the evening is amusing, thought-provoking and in A Scattering is moving, poignant and beautifully elegiac. Clearly drawing on Thomas Hardy’s memorable sequence of poems written after the death of his first wife, Reid is at his best in his hauntingly moving remembering of Lucinda, whether gardening, eating breakfast or learning Italian as she faced death. Many if not all of us will at some time face the awful dilemma: Who will go first? Me or my partner? Love, Loss and Chianti charts that terrible territory with unflinching honestly.
Review by John O’Brien
A delicious double-bill, Love, Loss & Chianti beautifully combines critically acclaimed poet Christopher Reid’s hauntingly powerful exploration of grief (A Scattering) with his raucous verse comedy, following a reckless attempt at rekindling an old flame (The Song of Lunch) – what could possibly go wrong?
Directed by Jason Morell and set to spectacular animation by celebrated cartoonist Charles Peattie, it’s the perfect night out for anyone who’s ever loved, lost or been on a rubbish date…
Author – Christopher Reid
Director – Jason Morell
Animation Designs & Drawing – Charles Peattie
Scenic Concept – Timothy Bird
Lighting Design – Colin Grenfell
Sound Design – Gregory Clarke
Video Facilitation – Matthew Brown
Love, Loss & Chianti
Tuesday 25th February – Sunday 17th May 2020
Running time 2 hours (including interval)