REVIEW: ‘The Verb to Love’ and ‘Portia Coughlan’

The Verb to Love

Book, Music and Lyrics by Andy Collyer

The Old Red Lion Theatre (London) – Until 23rd May 2015, 7pm

60 mins

The Old Red Lion stage sports a small hill and some lush, green (artificial) grass sprinkled with bright and blooming (artificial) flowers.  It’s twee, beautiful, almost perfect – just like the love story Simon (played by Martin Neely) is searching for.

We meet Simon on his emergence from a failed 23 year relationship.  I haven’t experienced a relationship that long, but I’m sure most of us in the audience can identify with that feeling when you realise: it just isn’t working anymore.  In fact, that’s one of the brilliant things about the story of ‘The Verb to Love’, it’s not grand, extraordinary or dramatic; it’s a simple love story about an average middle aged man – who inadvertently finds himself falling from one relationship in to another, then  almost in to another and you feel the bleakness that failed relationships can sometimes carry.

Although Simon talks same-sex relationships, this isn’t played up, or made special or other – it just is.  Regardless of your sexuality, if you’ve experienced love and relationships, you’ll likely identify with this.

It’s very much a one man musical, which at first I was dubious about, mostly because I simply adore a good harmony.  Neely’s Simon is sweet and has a soft naivety to him, I found myself sympathising with him from early on, I understood his anger and wept (a couple of tears) at his sorrow and realisation at the end.   Neely did a stellar job at holding the show for an hour falling gently from one song in to the next, with minimal dialogue between.   Some of the songs are quite similar, though ‘Online Dating’ brought a change of pace and an injection of humour to the piece.  ‘The End of Our Journey’ was beautiful – a song marking the end of a long relationship.  At this point, pianist Gareth Bretherton became the voice of ‘Ben’, Simon’s lover , who was now ending their long term relationship.  We’re about halfway through the show when this happens, and a second voice is much welcomed in to the mix, and harmonies – hurrah! I felt like I wanted more of this voice, it could be because Bretherton is so incredibly smooth and pleasing to listen to – it could be because so much of the show is about the coupling of two people, and at times feels small with just one voice.  Though I can possibly see why Andy Collyer employed mostly one voice – it is a piece of skilled storytelling from one perspective –  Simon’s. He speaks directly to us,   I’m not sure who ‘we’ are – whether he sees us as an audience or a friend.  I’m not sure it matters either.

Apparently summer is statistically the season that most people fall in love.  I can’t quite recall the reason why, perhaps it’s because it’s warm and everything seems perfect and wonderful.  Or perhaps it’s just because there’s more skin on show? Either way, ‘The Verb to Love’, is a gentle and moving show to pop along to on a mellow summers evening.  It’s a humble love story, that will most likely spark your own memories of your own encounters with love,  and at only an hour long, there’s plenty of time to drink and enjoy the glorious rooftop at The Old Red Lion afterwards, reflecting on your own encounters with the verb ‘to love’.

(C) Amie Taylor 2015 (@spoonsparkle)

Portia Coughlan
Written by Marina Carr
Directed by Bronagh Lagan
Old Red Lion Theatre until 23 May 2015
1hour25 with no interval


NB:  Portia Coughlan plays after The Verb to Love at The Old Red Lion Theatre at approximately 8.15pm.

Portia Coughlan is an intense drama and a complete contrast to the musical it’s in repertoire with. This performance is the first London run since 1996 when it opened in Dublin and then transferred to London’s Royal Court.

Set in Ireland, the play shows us a woman who has ‘beautiful house, beautiful clothes, beautiful everything’, yet she is still enslaved with grief over her twin brother.

Susan Stanley plays a feisty, emotional and confused Portia. We watch her bound between grief, denial, desire and despair throughout the piece and I couldn’t resist being sucked into her story.

The small studio space entwined with the smell of cigarettes helps to give the piece a claustrophobic air of a family coming to terms with a real tragedy, we join the family as they sit around a table, coping with loss in a way that is achingly recognisable.

Nik Corrall’s set features a surreal coffin shaped river that wouldn’t seem out of place in the Big Brother House, and it is used to great effect in Derek Anderson’s lighting.

There are times when the script feels a little relentless as the dramatic events unfold, and some of the delivery does at moments tend toward shoutiness. Fortunately, Keith Ramsey’s haunting presence gives a real tenderness to the piece. There are also welcome moments of comedy, including a particularly gruesome incident with an eye-patch.

Portia Coughlan is a harrowing tale of grief and guilty consciences, and a showcase of some very raw storytelling.

(C) Dan Farrell 2015

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