Love and Understanding

Sat 11th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Pia Dhaliwal

at 23:07 on 13th Aug 2012

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A problem that tends to crop up occasionally in shows billed as black comedies is that such productions sometimes risk overdoing the former and skimping on the latter. Fortunately, Wield The Matter’s production of the somewhat ironically named 'Love and Understanding; does not fall prey to this trap; the show is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, a quality that manages to complement rather than lessen the effect of its equally frequent disturbing moments.

Joe Penhall’s script, described in the show’s literature as ‘an under-performed masterpiece’, has been brought to life in a way that is truly a pleasure to behold. The story itself is deceptively simple – young doctors Neal (Will Attenborough) and Rachel (Charlie Hamblin) are finding themselves far too overworked to focus on their relationship; a matter complicated by the arrival of Neal’s old friend Richie (Ben Kavanagh), a questionable freeloader, into their lives. Yet the depth and complexity of the characterisation that unfolds is remarkable, with Richie demonstrating a frankly staggering capacity for mendacity and manipulation as he effortlessly and effectively preys upon Neal and Rachel’s insecurities.

The acting is, simply put, incredible. Hamblin, Attenborough and Kavanagh all draw upon the writing beautifully to portray believable and engaging characters. Although Kavanagh’s delightfully hateable Richie is the standout performance – villains are always compelling, after all – neither Hamblin nor Attenborough let the side down in their depiction of a couple struggling to keep their life together from deteriorating. The cast’s chemistry is a joy to witness, and I repeatedly found myself torn between wanting Neal and Rachel to patch things up and wanting to see how Richie would continue to drive them apart. All of this is very much enhanced by the cast’s pacing and delivery, not to mention the effective directing and efficient use of space. On that more technical note, the production quality is equally excellent; the attention to detail reflected in the lighting and musical numbers used during the scene transitions successfully make the show just that much more well-rounded. And while the props are fairly standard, an amusingly placed copy of 'Fifty Shades of Grey' did get a few laughs.

Essentially, it is impossible to overstate the overall strength of 'Love and Understanding'. Each aspect of its production is solid, resulting in a brilliantly gripping show. Twisted and shocking, yet never alienating – this is truly black comedy at its finest.

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Anwen Jones

at 09:12 on 14th Aug 2012

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I must admit, when I first saw the title of this play I was a little worried that I’d have to sit through an hour of smushy romance with constant references to that rather sickly and obscure idea of ‘true love’. I cannot say how completely and utterly unfounded my worry was. Love and Understanding is an accomplished, captivating, subtle piece of theatre with exceptionally crafted shades of light and dark. The sudden transitions between laughter, tension and despair forces the audience to embark on a rollercoaster of emotion as they follow the distressingly realistic relationships of Neal (Will Attenborough), Rachel (Charlie Hamblin) and Richie (Ben Kavanagh).

The intimate studio space in which the production is staged provides the perfect situation in which Joe Penhall’s complex yet notably lifelike characters can gain the focus and attention of the audience. Indeed, the close proximity between actor and spectator allows the subtle intricacies of the three characters to come to life. All three cast members deserve praise for outstanding performances in this sense. Ben Kavanagh’s unbalanced, slightly unhinged, yet playful portrayal of Richie warranted a number of outbursts from the audience, both of shock and laughter. It was difficult not to be engulfed by his ridiculous stories as he demanded attention as soon as he appeared on stage. Like Rachel and Neal, I found my sense of morality and friendship slowly manipulated by Richie’s dangerous but intriguing character.

In fairness, the written genius behind such a character meant Kavanagh had a gem of personality to interpret and he did so with vigour. That is not to say that Hamblin and Attenborough fell short of the mark in any sense. Despite having more refined, understated roles both actors truly embodied each character, creating the compellingly realistic relationship that drives the whole play. The three as a group were perfectly matched as the energy and skill appeared to bounce from one to the other – a wonderful example of how talented actors can use one another to add to their own individual performance.

In short, I kick myself for ever doubting the ability of Wield the Matter. If you have any emotional capacity left after watching this show you’ll want to see it again, although I have a feeling it may leave you just as shell-shocked as it did me.

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