Within 90 Minutes of Cordelia Lynn’s Work There Are Three Different Plays Fighting It
Here are three different dramas that are struggling to come out of Cordelia Lynn’s somewhat puzzling 90-minute script, titled Love and Other Acts of Love. Violence: A dysfunctional love story, a portrait of a political dystopia and a flashback to a massacre. All together, this is meant as a reminder that ancient abominations – especially anti-Semitism – Only dormant and easily re-awakened.
Elise Ismail’s production is well acted by the two leads, with Abigail Weinstock making a stunning professional debut opposite Tom Mothersdale. But the various elements are mismatched tonight and stylistically and there’s a lot more going on. Reopening Donmar that has been renewed after 19 months of closure is an overwhelming choice.
It begins brilliantly when the Postgrads, known only as him and her, meet at a party. He is a poet-historian-activist and a face-to-face mansplainer: he is a physicist with great potential for amusing isolation. The dialogue tastes good. He is Jewish and has Polish heritage: both can trace their heritage back to Lviv, aka Lemberg, now Ukraine. This fact gains additional weight when their relationship turns from sensual attraction to disagreement, racist abuse, and violence. Their comic differences stop feeling funny.
The short scenes are broken up by brilliant voiceovers, which probably represent his terrifying poetry. Suddenly the conversation shifts from their relationship to a deteriorating political situation, as Lynn begins to shove the fascist consequences out of today’s headlines. What begins with contemptuous populism quickly degenerates into a canceled culture, attacks on academic freedom, open prejudice and factional street fighting. It turns out that the laws of physics are also “subject to the politics of the time”.
Up until this point, Basia Biskowska’s set consists of a bare wooden stage set on the edge of a dirt. Suddenly a fully furnished Shettle house falls from the roof. Here Weinstock plays the grandmother of her original character, having a conversation with her carpenter father (Richard Katz) about wood carving and family history, though both are aware of the impending carnage. A terrible ending.
It’s a serious piece of work with a chilling message but – and I hate to quote Dominic Cummings here, but it’s apt – the whole thing careers like a luxurious shopping trolley. This partly stems from the anticipation of the edge of the seat being observable throughout where on Earth the script will go next. But mostly it’s for Mothersdale and Weinstock.
He, with his over-loud gestures and nervousness, neatly captures a man who undoubtedly considers himself a feminist, but is actually a manipulative gaslighter. She has a great ability to suggest strength through serenity, and she powerfully expresses the paternalistic fear of the female character within her. How the play reached this stage in this form, however, remains a mystery.
until 27th November, donmarwarehouse.com