Love, National Theatre, review: ‘The acting is low-key and stunning’

08:00 28 December 2016

The dress rehearsal of

The dress rehearsal of "Love" directed and written by Alexander Zeldin at the Dorfman Theatre at the National Theatre. NO EMBARGO Anna Calder Marshall and Hind Swareldahab

Sarah Lee - 07930392407

‘Love’ is a play of snatched moments,set inside a hostel, the last resort for a cluster of poor people, running out of options.

A middle-aged man washes his mother’s hair over a sink; a father watches his children eat; two women fight over a chipped mug. ‘Love’ is a play of snatched moments. It is set inside a hostel, the last resort for a cluster of poor people, running out of options.

As with Alexander Zeldin’s last play, ‘Beyond Caring’, this is a devised and highly unusual piece of theatre. Zeldin is trying with all his heart to create something that feels real.

The lights stay up throughout, the acting is low-key and stunning, much of the dialogue is mumbled and the dramatic ‘high points’ are slight, yet all the more powerful for it.

Natasha Jenkins’ set is equally unconventional and untheatrical. The audience bleed in around the edges of a communal living space, filled with scattered tables, a cluttered sink and a skylight so grimy it barely lets the light in.

We only catch glimpses of the bedrooms and private worlds within them. Dean (Luke Clarke) and his pregnant partner Emma (Janet Etuk) live with Dean’s two children in a room that is all bunkbed, duvets and family-clutter.

Colin (Nick Holder) and his mother (Anna Calder-Marshall) hide away in a bare room with the door left hopefully ajar, and a Syrian man (Ammar Haj Ahmad) and Sudanese woman (Hind Swareldahab) live in rooms we do not see.

Flickers of kindness and flashes of desperation flare up. The Syrian raps with a surly young boy (Yonatan Pele Roodner).

A confused old woman gives a young girl (Emily Beacock) a necklace. Two men commiserate with each other using only their eyes and a woman lets a frightened man touch her baby bump and cry.

The performances simmer at a painfully low and mesmerising pace. We are forced to lean in, and look harder.

Yes, there is something uncomfortable about a National Theatre audience exorcising their discomfort; what, after all, are we going to do with all this pain we feel at the theatre? But at least – at last – we are learning to listen.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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