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March 16, 2012 | by  | in Arts Theatre | [ssba]

Review – A Play About Love

Designed, written, and performed by Hannah Banks, Kate Clarkin, Uther Dean, William O’Neil, and Paul Waggot.

BATS, 6th March, 8pm

I don’t want a new paragraph. I want to turn a full-stop into a comma.”

A Play about Love has at its heart one relationship between a girl who makes snow globes and a stationer who jots brief snippets – including text messages – on post-it notes. These activities are the characters’ ways of coping with the world’s madness; the globes and notes, in a very physical sense, distill and capture moments that document two journeys through life. Such codifications allow the characters to examine the detritus of their relationship and attempt a resolution. Yet the question remains: why would we want to rekindle a relationship typified by struggle to get the other person to declare their love?

Uther Dean began the production with a series of epigraphs: a quote from Joyce (“love loves to love love”), a rather sad thing to be told (“I love you more when we are far apart”), something William wrote when devising the play, and finally the opening monologue from Love Actually. And Dean’s delivery of the latter was impeccable with such a touching sweetness and the vaguest hint of menace. Even though the monologue is widely known, Dean avoided banality. In short: these epilogues succeeded in adding the desired “intellectual content” to the production whilst also setting the scene well for what was to follow.

Although A Play about Love represented the relationship’s progress semi-linearly, there was no such unity in the way the actors portrayed the characters. Each actor took on one of the two partners in the relationship at various times throughout the play but the audience was reminded that one of them was “still me”, i.e. Dean; there was no fixed characterisation but a fluid, context-sensitive approach that leant a species of universality to the relationship whilst retaining its specificity. The programme states the production “started out as facts but ended up as fiction.” We are left wondering whether these facts were a recently ended relationship of Dean’s. This perspective provides depth to the final monologue,delivered by Dean, where the stationer expresses his desire to restart the relationship.

The audience takes the role of “you” – the girl who makes snow globes – at various points. We play our role through cleverly subtle direct address. For instance, two actors simultaneously play the stationer and tell us about the first time they said they loved us. Our response was…nothing; as an audience we sat dumbly staring into the face(s) of the person who expresses their love for us and cannot reciprocate. Just like that time your partner won’t approve your facebook relationship status change, you are left wondering whether they truly do love you.

Having multiple actors play the same character worked incredibly well for this production since it allowed different actors to portray different aspects of the main characters. Paul Waggot, for example, embodied the high-energy, physical, and slightly paranoid aspects. Having him literally wrestle with William O’Neil (playing “you”) to manipulate an “I love you” out of him illustrated the combative elements of love. In a world where multiple actors play the same person, external signifiers of gender become irrelevant and our actions are not predetermined by some received action code. Hannah Banks, however, brought a more sober, more open aspect to both characters; when Banks took part in the relationship there was a feeling of deeper connection.

Like the subject matter, A Play about Love is not perfect. At points the intellectual discussion of love descends into banal didacticism; discussions of emotions made in intellectual terms often fail. Yet, what A Play about Love does so well is present love in emotional language. And we return to the vital question: why would we want to rekindle a relationship that is not all bouncy bunnies and cute kitties? This is a question that the play, rightly, does not answer. We are left to meditate on whether it is because, perhaps, love over-rides our better judgment; the object of our affections is esteemed above all else principally because it is the object of our affections. Or, as A Play about Love has it, love is not about thinking, it is about experiencing. Even if the experiences are not universally positive, the point is that humans still crave experiences. There is more to love than just pleasure.

A Play about Love runs from 6th -10th and 13th – 17th March at 8pm. Tickets cost $18/$13


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