The supreme vice is shallowness
Oscar Wilde to Bosie
I went to see Love, Love, Love by the terrific actor’s ensemble theatre company Red Stitch tonight. I’d previously seen Grounded which I thought was an Arthur Milleresque masterpiece which was very well delivered by the single actor. Most of Red Stitch’s plays are contemporary plays from around the world – mainly the Anglosphere. The theme of Love, Love, Love is the failure of the dream of the generation of the 60s – now quite a theme. There was another play on at MTC – Jumpy – with a similar theme which is the disillusion of the 60s generation with the way their lives turned out and their strained and uncomprehending relationships with their children.
I didn’t much like either play, though Jumpy was a bit better done I thought. Intriguingly the author of Jumpy was born in 1960 while the author of Love, Love, Love was born in 1980 and the latter play has a much more accusatory air. The basic plot is that a couple of shallow, privileged kids who fancy themselves as free spirits in the ‘Summer of Love’ get married (the guy pinches the girl off his more staid brother in the first scene). They’re both the embodiment of self-centredness dressing it all up in 60s guff about freedom and throwing off the shackles. This scene is full of subtle anachronisms. It’s supposed to be 1967. The word ‘chauvinism’ had barely begun its take-off but is presented as a well worn expression. More importantly there might have been some marketing hype about all that free love in the sixties in the sixties, but few people were really talking like that and except at the fringes, the vibe of the sixties mostly takes off towards the end of the sixties and into the seventies (this was particularly true in Australia, but also I think true elsewhere). The play captured virtually no sense of the immensely repressed nature of normal middle class life then. You get the impression that, with the exception of a few squares it was wall to wall grooviness. (Continued, with some mild spoilers over the page).
Anyway, this couple end up working middle class jobs, having affairs, getting divorced, and not giving two tosses about their kids. Their son becomes kind of withdrawn in an Aspergersy way and the daughter is aloof, troubled and troublesome. She eventually turns up in the final scene – aged 37 blaming – her parents for the crappy life she is having and is now doomed to have. One could object to this on the grounds of realism – we don’t really get much inside the characters – but my main objection is Oscar’s objection above. The parents are ultimately empty and narcissistic and their kids lives end up not amounting to anything more. These are people without any sense of their own agency or responsibility for their lives, except when they justify themselves to others in the play’s argy bargy and we see this being passed down from parent to child, but without much insight into the process.
The parents ideological crimes are then rehearsed. After all the ‘love’ stuff, they voted for Mrs Thatcher and then ‘Fucking Tony Blair’ and then David Cameron. “You didn’t change the world, you bought it.” says their daughter in zinger line. But if the play is an indictment of a generation – and it is a worthy subject – then if these ideological points are being made, there has to be some correspondence between the free love types in the first scenes and voting thus. It’s hard to see and there’s been no elaboration of the couple’s (changing?) political views.
And the crimes of this couple are not preeminently ideological crimes – they’re human ones. They don’t really give a shit about anyone other than themselves. They reap a daughter who is rightly pissed off with them. She has every right to demand they take their responsibility for that. But there’s fat chance of that. And there’s no sign of the daughter reaching for her own agency. That kind of shallowness doesn’t make for a good night of theatre.
Three and a half stars from me (and four and a half from Margaret Pomeranz – I’m just guessing there).