Not the Love I Cry For, Arcola Theatre, London

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I had not particularly appreciated Danny Worters as an actor before this. He has one of those faces whose default state is a mild smile: not a smirk, but it can look as if he is constantly trying to ingratiate or endear himself, and so detract from the performance he gives. But as Craig, the focal point of Robin Hooper’s play, Worters’ natural attitude works well. Craig is in an awkward, insecure position, yet wants to remain on the right side of everyone: Leyla, the Turkish woman who has become one of his best friends in east London; Emin, her husband, with whom Craig falls in undeclared love while Leyla is away and who responds with Islamic nobility and an equal though Platonic affection; Bill, the lover whose forbearance and constancy Craig is taking for granted throughout the Emin business. The only person for whom he does not care at all is his father Joe, who is clearly a manipulative, racist piece of work but whose particular rift with Craig is never adequately explained.

Hooper turns out the occasional overwritten line, but the tone of this 90-minute piece as a whole is rather the opposite: we are forever waiting for something to happen. Even when Joe’s streak of violent menace becomes apparent, the play never moves into gear. The director Paul Miller has kept a tight lid on anything approaching sensationalism and, while this respects the author’s musings about race, religion and sexuality, it cripples any sense of drama. Indeed, it takes a while to realise that there is substance here, after an opening scene that matches Worters in his standard mode with Esin Harvey, who is simply unable achieve any depth or naturalness in her portrayal of Leyla. Luckily, Aykut Hilmi as Emin and Nicolas Tennant as Bill have the lion’s share of the action apart from Craig – but the term “action” is stretching matters somewhat. Not The Love I Cry For (a title more overwrought than anything else in the work) feels like notes towards, or a rough draft of, a finished play: Hooper has characters, events and themes all ready, but they lack the breath of life, and are further hindered by Miller’s damped-down direction. ★★★☆☆

Tel 020 7503 1646

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