THE ESSENCE OF LOVE
by Philip Ayckbourn.
PCK productions Tour to 19h June 2010.
Runs 2hr One interval.
Review Mark Courtice 10 June at Hangar Farm Arts Centre Totton
Not so Inspired.
Apparently, Philip Ayckbourn was inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to write this story about a love potion and the chaos it inspires.
Set in Marrakech (an exotic location where dodgy foreign street vendors might sell a potion that works) a father and son share a hotel room whose balcony adjoins that of a mother and daughter also on holiday. Mother buys the potion and can’t resist using it.
Ayckbourn’s characters include the nerdy daughter (sensible shorts, hair in bunches, wants to save the planet), and a gay divorcee (clothes too tight, colours too vibrant, eye wandering and rapacious). The dad’s a loser, (thinks he’s a great boss and that heating ventilation is a fascinating trade) and son is an artist (a sulky teenager never grown up).
The jokes are sometimes quick, but too often are based on misogyny or mistrust of foreigners. The meat of the play hinges on the difference between love inspired by the potion and the real thing. While the writing falters in the challenge of making this work, it is satisfactorily rigorous in keeping to the farcical logic of the potion and its antidotes in their effects on the quartet.
Writers often like to direct their own work, but it takes a very special example to do it successfully. Here there are moments when writer Philip failed to ask the hard questions of director Philip or vice versa.
No one is credited with the design, perhaps because there isn’t much; a designer could have pointed out that a stage divided into two halves with one entrance upstage in each did not give director Philip much space to vary the scene changes. This, combined with some of the cast being asked to do more than they can manage, means it’s often hard to keep involved with a piece that needs our engagement with both plot and emotion.
Two suburban couples in exotic climes can’t hold a candle to the court lost in a magic forest from which Ayckbourn’s inspiration came; soon we long for a weaver who thinks he’s an ass and a few fairies.
Diana: Judi Armstrong Christie.
Gemma: Samantha Bolter.
Martin/Abdul Hamid: Jonathan Markwood.
Tom: Murray Simon.
Voice of Young Street Vendor: Kristina Anne Howell.
Director: Philip Ayckbourn.
Composer: Nicholas Capaldi.