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Review of City Love by Simon Vinnicombe at CLA Art Cafe the Bussey Building

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on Saturday, 21 September 2013
City Love by Simon Vinnicombe

From 9th September to 28th September 2013.

The Bussey Building AKA the CLF Art Café, 133 Rye Lane, Peckham Rye, SE15 4ST

Web site http://www.citylovetheplay.co.uk/ and clfartcafe.org   Box Office Tickets 0844 477 1000

 4 stars

This two-hander story of twenty somethings falling in love in contemporary London – on the number 12 bus route to be precise - has much to recommend it and the script by Simon Vinnicombe, ably interpreted by Ian Bonar as Jim and Natasha Broomfield as Lucy , manages to catch the chaotic desperation and destruction of their young love with a winning simplicity.

By the end I felt quite moved at their plight and felt it attained a tragic dimension – in the sense that what destroys their relationship is their tragic flaw of insecurity and a fear that they don’t deserve to be loved. Thrown in a couple of really good performances and it forms a very watchable piece of theatre.

The first part of they play when they fall in love against the odds in the huge and anonymous city, does get a bit too sentimental sometimes, and at points I felt I had accidentally wondered into the latest Richard Curtis feel good comedy, but the reversal and descent when it comes is arguably all the more horrifyingly tragic because of that sentimental build up: after all they are basically sweet, kind people. They expect too much from love when it finally arrives and it is I suppose also part of the theme of the play that the way these characters speak and dream is in the language of British style romantic comedies – though the script does become harsher and more bitter in the second half.

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Fig. 1. Ian Bonarm Credit Sam Swainsbury

Bonar’s Jim is a graphic designer and something of a loner, who starts to believe he can really be a traditional man after meeting Natasha Broomfield
’s Lucy, she in turn finds that her career obsession with becoming a buyer for some kind of store quickly gives way to a rather more traditional desire to be a wife and mother - something she'd repressed after getting hurt before in love: neither ever expected to find anyone. Love dissolves their insecurities, but it doesn’t really solve them and their love means that suddenly their expectations are raised. But it is Jim’s very traditional male insecurities about failing to be a successful breadwinner, like Lucy's golf-playing father that eventually drive him into depression, which Lucy can do little to alter and she in the end grows to hate him for the fact he has hurt her. Their striking lack of empathy towards one another as things go wrong, is one of the clever things in the play and in fact shows how far each have raised the other’s expectations unduly - love has become something unconditional :if it is Jim’s awakened masculinity which is undone by the economics of getting a mortgage on a minimal salary as a graphic designer, then it is Lucy’s inability to recognise what is going on with the man she clearly loves, that is equally disturbing.

I wasn’t so keen on the austere design by Zanna Mercer – although the mobile sculpture swinging above the action was a rather nice melange of whimsical moments of their past lives and dreams – as for all its blackbox minimalism it tended to ignore the fact that London is such a powerful and complex presence in the script. When they fall in love London seems to become a beguiling playground of transformations and futures, mirroring the way their new expectations transform their insecurities.  However, when things start to go wrong it becomes alienating, nightmarish and the question of economics – how can anyone in their twenties apart from bankers or those who have substantial trust funds afford to buy a house anywhere in London ? – takes on an overbearing, crushing importance for Jim.  I couldn’t help but think they should move to the country, have their baby there, and forget about the rat-race and it is part of the appeal of Vinnicombe’s script that you feel angry while and at the same time sympathetic to the way their love has been lost. It is not a political take on the question of love – like Sarah Kane’s Cleansed – and in a sense the character's dreams are unremarkable: to be a suburban father with a mortgage on a decent house and to be a mother with a loving husband whom she can trust. However, their blissful view of love as being something taht ignores reality means they can't see how it is affected by the rest of the world and in this case that means the city. Maybe it’s a question of theatre economics, but I thought much more could have been done to project images of London or choose some interesting music and sounds that brought the city to life.

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Fig. 2. Ian Bonar and Natasha Broomfield, credit Sam Swainsbury.

I also thought that Sarah Bedi’s direction while good on allowing the actors to portray their characters and fine at catching the rhythms of the plot, could have been less naturalistic and static for at least some of the time. She seemed to be more worried about ensuring the audience could concentrate on the characters in the somewhat awkward space of the Bussey Building’s stage, rather than trying to create any memorable shape for the action, but surely one of the points of the script is the way in which these rather shy and isolated characters connect and disconnect and the joy and sadness they feel? For instance the sublimity and exhilaration of their initial getting together, tended to depend wholly on the two actor’s excellent performances, without much help from the direction. However, despite these minor quibbles there is much to recommend this play and I left the theatre in a thoughtful mode: ‘Thoughts that lie too deep for tears’ are not - in the final analysis - always happy ones.
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