The Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch has reconfigured it’s stage and auditorium to house writer/director Alexander Zeldin’s production of Love. Initially performed at the National Theatre it has since toured extensively, arriving here two years later with many of the original cast.
A dramatic indictment of the shortcomings of social policies
Natasha Jenkins’ semi-immersive set is a bleak local authority, temporary housing unit. Some of the audience are on stage right, wedged between the communal toilet and one of two bedrooms. Others are located on the opposite side by the shared kitchen, with the rest in raked seating at the front, facing two long tables, a number of chairs and both bedrooms. When their doors are open it’s possible to gain a glimpse of the grim, cramped interiors, depending on where you are seated.
The occupants are a mixed bunch, reflecting the breadth of people who find themselves struggling with accommodation and other issues. Middle-aged Colin (Nick Holder) shares a room with Barbara (Anna Calder-Marshall), his elderly, incontinent mother. He’s her official carer. Next door is a family of four. Jobless Dean (Luke Clarke) has two children at school: his young daughter Paige (played alternately by Emily and Rosanna Beacock) and his older son Jason (Yonatan Pelé Roodner). They have bunk beds in the same room as his pregnant partner, Emma (Janet Etuk). Unable to afford the rent increase imposed by their previous landlord they expect to be rehoused in the build-up to Christmas and before Emma gives birth. Tharwa (Mimi Malaz Bashir), an immigrant from the Sudan lives alone in a room off from the kitchen while refugee Adnan (Waj Ali) from Syria is accommodated in another part of the building, but walks back and forth though the eating area.
In various ways they are all living with the belief that the promises of the welfare agencies, the hope of housing and the prospect of employment will all one day be fulfilled. At times they reassure each other that all will be well; the next they point out the futile reality of their situations. They are unwilling, intimate neighbours forced to endure each other’s bathroom habits and idiosyncratic kitchen usage. There is a universal shortage of food for which Dean in particular is forced to make excuses to his children. There is the unpleasant sharing of utensils and a haunting sense of boredom, mistrust and suspicion engendered by differences of social class, ethnicity, language and age. Meanwhile, the overwhelming blandness and monotony of the place, where entertainment is hearing the branch of a tree knocking on a sky light, is broken only by visits to the increasingly frustrating, demanding and unforthcoming departments of social services.
The pace is poignantly slow, reflecting the hours of boredom and the monotonously repetitious cycle of daily life they are forced to endure. Silence often fills the air, even when the tenants are gathered together. Attempts at conversation frequently falter. Whether older hands or newcomers to the cast, all know how to play this lacklustre, depressing situation and create a fascinatingly defined character. Each also manages to inject fleeting moments of humour and experience times when the desire to give and receive some form of affection or recognition comes movingly to the surface.
Love is a dramatic indictment of the shortcomings of social policies and integration. It’s something of a slog at times, but at least we are sitting comfortably in a theatre, something beyond the wildest dreams of those for whom this play is a living reality.