Love, Genius and a Walk, at Theatro Technis, a venue billed as ‘one of London's best-kept secrets’, is an ambitious exploration of how artistic individuals struggle with marriage and of the pressures placed on their partners.
Both exasperating and very pleasant
The musical genius Gustav Mahler (Lloyd Morris) and his wife Alma (Lisa Ronaghan), whose musical ambitions he largely thwarted, are well known. The Writer (Jodyanne Fletcher Richardson) and Steve (Stephen Connery Brown) are merely characters in this play whose marriage is supposed to mirror that of the Mahlers, but in the modern age. It’s probably not worth pondering for too long on why he has a name but she doesn’t, other than to reinforce the idea of male superiority and domination. What’s of far greater interest is the question of why they are in the play at all. There is more than enough material available to make for a gripping examination of the Mahlers: the introduction of this attempted parallel marriage fails to inform the former and in itself becomes a repetitive series of disputes in which Steve berates The Writer for wasting her time penning material about Mahler (the somewhat contrived link between the two stories) when she could be making fortunes in the financial sector as he does.
That said, there are some delightful performances in this production directed by Leah Townley. A pair of the iconic spectacles give Morris a haunting semblance of Mahler. He impresses at the piano, shows how much at ease Mahler was when conducting and demonstrates his long-suffering tolerance of his wife’s endless affairs. Mahler was clearly not an easy man to live with. As his close friend Natalie Bauer-Lechner observed: ‘So changeable and inconsistent is he by temperament, that he is never the same for an hour at a time’. Morris also captures this side of the troubled man. Ronaghan’s part is somewhat underwritten and lacks depth of exploration, but she manages to convey Alma’s frustrations and her need for other men, a trait that continued even after her marriage to lover Walter Gropius (James Boyd) following Mahler’s death.
Tim Hardy gives a delightfully calm and serene performance as a highly credible Sigmund Freud, not without some wit. It’s a pity that the protracted meeting he has with Mahler on the park bench is full of some of the most predictable and blatantly obvious analysis, which although apposite needs to be broken up or presented as less of a didactic overview of Freudian principles.
The space available at Theatro Technis allows for the various scenes to have their locations in a set by Constance Villemot and for some delightful ‘walks in the park’ by the full cast in period costumes. These are also enhanced by the inevitable snippets of Mahler's great works.
All things combine to make for an evening that is at times both exasperating and very pleasant: the former coming from the script and the latter from the production.