Ruth Cockburn – Love Letters from Blackpool
  • By Ash Weir
  • |
  • 6th Aug 2018
  • |
  • ★★★★

"Welcome to Blackpool!" Cockburn beams as her audience files into Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre. It’s a good choice of venue. The dark wood of the desks, the sickly pale turquoise of the walls and the blacked-out pyramid skylight of the ceiling all contribute to a performance space reminiscent of seaside music halls. Furthermore, the steep tiered crescent seating lends itself perfectly to a flexible fourth wall, which Cockburn effortlessly breaks and rebuilds throughout the show. Alongside a soundscape of seagulls’ screams tumbling from the sky and the lulling ebb and flow of breaking waves, it does indeed feel as though a tiny pocket of Blackpool has opened up on the outskirts of the Fringe, into which our charismatic host—complete with kiss-me-quick tee— is beckoning us to come join her.

Romantic, but far from hopeless.

Love Letters From Blackpool is a touchingly personable piece of theatre concerning Cockburn’s musings on love, romance and the small northern holiday town that made her. As an audience member, it is impossible not to be won over by your host’s charms. Eyes glinting, she bounces from anecdote to anecdote, from letter to fact to story. It is a multifaceted hour of songs, poems, recorded Vox-pops, audience interaction and monologue. Of course, there lurks in such a kaleidoscopic form an intrinsic danger of showboating, but Cockburn’s easy and warm style prevents this from ever becoming an issue; this show is less of a whirlwind spin on the waltzers as it is a nostalgic stroll down the pier with a long-lost friend.

At times comedic, at others lyrical, the overriding tone of the piece is nostalgia. A highlight of the show is What You’re Doing Now, a bittersweet ballad about an old flame who has since lost his lustre. Steeped in melancholy, and sung in Cockburn’s uniquely beautiful melting voice, the song encapsulates the transience and folly of a rose-tinted and romanticised past love, a minor note which also resonates in some of the other elements of the show such as Ernie’s lovelorn letters to Margaret, and Jean’s disenfranchisement with her husband, a ’simple creature’ who nevertheless loves her dearly.

In fact, perhaps the most poignant brush of nostalgia of all is the juxtaposition between the romantic ideals of different generations; ‘love at first sight’ versus ‘love at first swipe’, as Cockburn wryly trills in her song, Romance is Dead. This extends to the set pieces, in particular the positioning of an easel supporting large, retro-feeling yellowed cards containing prompts such as ‘What Is Love?’ written in swirling, calligraphic handwriting, below which is tacked a crisp white piece of card containing the hashtag #lovelettersfromblackpool. It is a clash of analogue and digital, old and new. Yet Cockburn never quite loses sight of the problems of old-age romanticism, it’s fast-track tendencies toward marriage and issues of consent. Her sentimentalism never becomes cloying and is often deftly undercut with excellently timed comedic punchlines.

If there is a criticism to be made of Love Letters From Blackpool, it is of the voices to which we are introduced but whose owners are absent from the stage. With the exception of Jean and Garry, it is never clearly established what Cockburn’s relation was to these characters. Are they real? Fictional? Strangers? Friends? Family? The aspects of multimedia and characterisation are skilfully executed and imaginatively staged, but we are at no point told how they came to be there. All we are told of the creative process of show is that it takes its inspiration from a request made by Cockburn’s late aunt that her love letters be burnt should they ever be found. It is a small criticism, but would help the audience navigate the network of kindred romantics, and solidify Cockburn’s position at the centre. After all, one of the show’s greatest strengths is its characterisation. Though we are presented with love songs, love letters and love poems, the greatest love of all is that with which Ruth Cockburn presents her characters. I would thoroughly recommend this show.

Reviews by Ash Weir

theSpace on North Bridge

Liz

★★★
Pleasance Dome

There Will Be Cake

★★★★
Frankenstein Pub

Rocky Horror Night

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Love Letters from Blackpool, a comedy theatre piece about love and Blackpool, originally commissioned by The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester and subsequently nominated for Best New Show at Leicester Comedy Festival and Best Comedy Show at Greater Manchester Fringe, uses found love letters, original songs, poetry and audience interaction to answer the questions... What is love? And is Blackpool still lovable? 'Best night in ages, heart warming honest, funny, creative and beautiful. Leaving filled with the joy of romance' (Audience review). 'Hard not to laugh along' (IslingtonNow.co.uk).

Most Popular See More

Come From Away

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Back to the Future - The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Cinderella The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets