Review by Rosie Holmes
Emma Gueye’s comedy-drama Love Talk, examining the highs and lows of a 10 year relationship, is now open at New Wimbledon Theatre’s smaller, more intimate Studio space. This one act piece marks my first visit to the venue – would Love Talk set the tone for many enjoyable nights there in the future?
Set entirely in the garden of their home, Love Talk spans a 10 year period, punching in on some of the more poignant episodes in couple Adam and Lauren’s relationship. We see their first meeting at a party, their engagement, fertility woes, the death of loved ones, their secrets and the unsettling emergence of an ex flame. Lauren and Adam are very much the couple you might be friends with - Lauren an aspiring lawyer, desperate to do her own thing and not simply fall into the family business, Adam the ‘good guy’ you root for, while still aware of his flaws.
For the most part one of this piece’s strengths is its relatability. There are many moments that are universally reflective of experiences in love and the every day. Going to meet your partner’s friends when you simply couldn’t think of anything worse, arguing about potential baby names, or even unpacking the big shop together. There were many jokes that obviously rang true with the audience, such as discussing the premise of Casualty, (we always know what’s going to happen!) or the price of wine. Yet there were also moments of poignancy, most notably after the death of a parent when support was looked for from, in this case, Adam.
Will Charlton plays Adam, one half of the couple. Adam encapsulates the many different aspects of a man in love; the supportive husband, the helpless supporter, and increasingly, the frustrated partner who witnesses the loss of his relationship. Charlton excels in moments of sarcasm delivering remarks, with the most cutting of tongues, eliciting many laughs along the way. A one-liner about nepotism, stuck particularly in my mind. Charlton is able to portray not only Adam’s sarcasm but his vulnerability and heart-breaking hurt, although occasionally his character can be a little over emphasised, almost a caricature.
Megan Cooper attacks the role of Lauren with vigour, definitely more believable in some of the sadder scenes, than the often-awkward opening scenes of an early romance. Cooper provides a heart-breaking performance after the loss of her mother as well as at the breakdown of the relationship. Unfortunately, Cooper’s performance is often let down by the writing. What is perhaps meant to be a nuanced character instead becomes rather one dimensional and towards the end, quite simply unlikeable.
Part of this is dislike for Lauren is as a result of her relationship with Ethan, played by Chris Austin. In his short time on stage, Austin is wonderful (though his character is not) portraying the smarmy and irritating Ethan, though his portrayal adds to quite a one-dimensional plot and group of characters. After reading interviews with the cast, it is clear that the story aims to present a complex relationship, a couple who both have flaws but where neither is the ‘bad guy.’ Unfortunately, this was not achieved. Lauren often resembled a petulant child and her closeness to the smarmy Ethan made her infidelity even more unforgivable and baffling, and I found myself siding with Adam throughout.
On the one hand, it feels as though the play is too slow moving, there are definitely scenes that could be cut and would not impact the overall narrative and audience’s feelings towards the characters. On the other hand, there are themes in the play that are very underdeveloped and needed further exploration. There is mention of stars at the beginning of the piece and what they represent to us – are they lights guiding the way, or a symbol of something bigger than us? Stars are then mentioned again at the end, but it felt a little glib, and needed some expansion to be a more poignant metaphor, as seemed to be the intended goal.
Similarly, we only hear about Adam’s parents after his father’s death, and in fact this is pretty much all we hear of Adam’s life outside of his relationship with Lauren, making his character also one-dimensional and unbalanced. Whereas in contrast the character of Lauren is provided with much more depth and background – we hear about her childhood and her parents’ relationship, as well as her ex-boyfriend.
The set is very simple and fits the studio’s small and intimate space. The whole play is set only in the garden of Adam and Lauren’s house and so a sole pair of garden chairs play host to both heart-breaking and joyous moments in our characters’ relationship. Scene changes are therefore swift and simple, although I do feel like more could be done to show the passing of time, whether that be in the set or in costume changes.
Love Talk is a nice look at the span of a long-term relationship, sarcasm and relatable anecdotes clearly hitting the spot with many of the audiences as their giggles and knowing nods attest to, with many seeing their lived experiences reflected back at them on stage. However, while the cast gave energetic performances, their characters did feel a little too one-dimensional to provide a truly meaningful portrayal of a modern relationship. There are some nicely executed ideas within the play, but it does feel like a lot more work is needed to make this a more touching piece.
Love Talk is playing at The Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday 29th April 2023, tickets available here- Love Talk Tickets | Studio at New Wimbledon Theatre in Greater London | ATG Tickets
Photos by Charles Flint