• Amy Toledano

Love, Loss & Chianti presented by Riverside Studios

Image courtesy of Alex Harvey-Brown

What Is It?

A staged adaptation of two books by award-winning British poet Christopher Reid, directed by Jason Morell, starring Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson.

What Is It About?

This is effectively two separate short plays, each featuring both Robert Barthurst and Rebecca Johnson. The first is the premiere production of Reid’s Costa Book Award winning verse A Scattering, which is Reid’s autobiographical verse poem about loss, written during the three years surrounding the death of his wife. The second, The Song of Lunch, is a bittersweet drama about lost love between two former lovers, set in a Soho Italian restaurant.

How Did It Make Me Feel?

A little confused for the most part. A Scattering is desperately tragic, a story of grief that on a human level really does connect. The Song of Lunch hits completely different chords however, as a mildly funny, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at love. The engaging use of Charles Peattie’s animation is innovative. It really comes to life in the latter piece, adding a backdrop and interactive setting to the world of the piece, whereas in the first it is far more abstract, and in some places distracts from the words on show. Jason Morell’s direction functions to keep the plays ticking over well, especially in the first half, which does not feel as static as it might, although in the second half a lot of the movements and blocking felt arbitrary.

Both performances are commendable. Barthurst delivers an engaging and emotive performance that keeps the audience engaged through what is essentially nearly two hours of a poetry reading. Johnson is good when she is on stage, but is only on stage for less than half of the runtime, and speaks for less than half of that. The poetry itself, as commented upon, is intelligent and literary, but also verbose and a lot of the nuance is lost in it being adapted for theatre. It also has moments that, in 2020 at least, are problematic (a reference to actors being scapegoated like ‘Jews and gypsies’ leaps out, even if it is not intended to be problematic, it is left unaddressed). Similarly, Johnson’s character in the second half is treated uncomfortably, completely sexualised, and a brief reference to the ‘male gaze’ does little to help. That Johnson is the only woman in the cast or creative team may be telling.

Anything Else?

Despite this being a well-performed piece, and despite an engaging use of animation, this piece has issues for a modern audience in 2020. Moreover, the words clearly function better as poetry and it is difficult to understand what the stage adaptation adds to that.

Calum x

Love, Loss and Chianti is playing at Riverside Studios until the 17th May 2020.

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