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May 7, 2012 5:49 pm
“It’s your fault,” cries Rose, facing down her bemused parents as they sit sipping wine in the conservatory. Is she right? A struggling musician in her 30s, Rose can’t afford a house, a car or a baby. Her parents, she thinks, had it all: sex and drugs in their 20s; jobs and homes in their 40s; pensions and fun in their 60s.
So Mike Bartlett, in this scorching comedy, focuses on the generational shift in fortunes and the oft-repeated charge that the baby-boomers pulled up the ladder behind them. It’s a play that inevitably raises more questions than it answers, but it is ambitious and hugely amusing. And while Bartlett might simplify issues himself, what he demonstrates with great flair is how every generation simplifies the faults of the previous one.
Given the scale of his enquiry, he wisely keeps his focus tight. The play zooms in on one couple, Ken and Sandra, and revisits them over the years. We meet them first in 1967, a couple of pot-smoking students who talk freedom and change; then in 1990 when, married and mortgaged, they are chafing at the bit; finally in 2011 as they ramble recklessly towards old age. Each act contains a showdown, as the couple first get together, blatantly, under the nose of Ken’s brother (Sandra’s original boyfriend), then split up, callously in front of their teenage children, and finally reunite, ignoring their now adult children’s shaky plight.
Their song is the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”, which lends the play its title. It’s soon apparent that their particular love is pretty self-obsessed. But Bartlett suggests their creed may have damaged their own happiness as well as that of others, offering an uncertain route to balancing freedom and responsibility.
Whatever your judgment on the couple, they are sensationally well played in James Grieve’s acerbically funny production. Victoria Hamilton and Ben Miles age four decades in under three hours and are at their best in their 1990s showdown: a drink-fuelled exchange that has the audience holding its breath. There is great support from Sam Troughton as the brother and Claire Foy as Rose, both brooding with resentment, and from George Rainsford as Jamie, the biggest casualty of the whole affair.
It’s too schematic, too broad and too academic at times (the 1960s dialogue in particular is implausibly self-conscious). But still this is a quizzical, funny and ultimately tragic play.
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