It is June 25 1967 and the world is watching The Beatles perform ‘All You Need Is Love’ on Our World, the first live satellite global television production. It is the Summer of Love, London is swinging, the economy is booming, there is the sexual revolution, and jobs and possibilities are endless
As Kenneth and Sandra watch The Beatles perform their new song, they are aware of all that is going on and all they have going for them. They are excited for the future and will grab and take hold of all it has to offer.
Fast forward to 1990 and the world is a different place. Kenneth and Sandra are still doing well, but their children must cope with the legacy of Thatcherism and the fact that inflation stands at 9.4 per cent - the highest level for eight years. The future does not look bright for the Baby Boomers’ children.
Now it is 2011. Kenneth and Sandra are retired and living comfortably on their pensions, self-satisfied to the extent that they even tolerate each other’s infidelities. Their children, however, must cope with the collapse of the economy, unemployment, harsh cutbacks, and the possibility of emigration.
What happened to the idealism of their parents? Why are the Baby Boomers’ children not having the opportunities of their elders? Is it the fault of the previous generation, or does each generation have to take responsibility for its own situation?
This is Love, Love, Love, the acclaimed new black comedy by British playwright Mike Bartlett, which will be performed in the Town Hall in a production by Paines Plough and Drum Theatre, as part of this year’s Galway Arts Festival.
Setting the scene
The play is directed by James Grieve, who is the co-artistic director with George Perrin, of Paines Plough. It will be the company’s debut production in Galway.
James has worked with Mike Bartlett before both in Nabokov theatre company and again in Paines Plough. What attracts him to Barlett’s plays and why is the playwright James is continually keen to produce?
“He creates well rounded characters and really gets under the skin of people and their relationships,” James tells me during our Wednesday afternoon interview. “His plays are political but they are told through the prism of human relationships and built around families which is something everyone can relate to. They are complex yet accessible.”
Each of the play’s three acts takes place in a different era - 1967, 1990, and 2011. What kind of attention to period details will there be and what can we expect to see on stage?
“We will have three completely different sets and Lucy Osbourne, the set designer, spent a lot of time researching each period,” says James. “It was a joy looking into the Sixties, which was such a rich period culturally. The play opens with the Our World broadcast and there is a lot of evidence and documentation of what went on that day.
“We looked through documentaries, photographs, newspapers, and met people who were involved in the Sixties scene. One of them brought us on a tour of the King’s Road, talking to us about the fashions of the time. I think it would have been lovely to have been around for the Sixties. Those who were look back at it very fondly and those who weren’t wish they had been.
“1990 was my childhood and it was a joy also to get a chance to look back at it at how things were then, with tape decks and all. Even though it’s very recent it still felt retro. I hope people will enjoy the whole deal.”
Given that The Beatles provide the play with its title, can we also expect music and songs from each era to be part of the show?
“Music comes in and out of the play but is not a main focus,” explains James, “but music is talked about so much that people will be able to come up with their own soundtrack. For the Sixties there will be The Beatles, the Stones, Procol Harum and, for the 1990s, The Stone Roses and Acid House. There is a belief that Sixties music was the best but that is contentious and we want audiences to have that debate arising form the play.”
If the Baby Boomers were among those who epitomised the generation gap, Love, Love, Love looks at a new kind of generation gap, one created by economics and the recession, where the parents are the ‘haves’ and their children ‘the have nots’.
“The play opens full of hope with Kenneth and Sandra aged 19, living the Sixties, talking with excitement about the future,” says James. “In 1990 things have changed, now it’s all about the free market, work, material wealth, and by 2011 they have retired and are comfortably off but their children are struggling for jobs and housing.”
Through its story of a somewhat dysfunctional middle class family, its black comedy, and strong, well drawn characters, particularly that of Sandra, Love, Love, Love poses two provocative social questions - Are the Baby Boomers, with their former idealism replaced by materialism, responsible for leaving a world of economic recession, unemployment, and lack of opportunity to their children and grandchildren? Or did the Baby Boomers make the very best of their situation and opportunities, and later generation must aspire do the same, regardless of the now adverse circumstances?
“It asks what are the responsibilities we have to ourselves as individuals, to our children, and to society,” says James. “It does not provide answers, but it asks if the Sixties generation should have been more responsible. At the height of the Sixties boom there were jobs and houses available and people should have thought more long term and created a greater legacy. It asks if the cult of individualism was a good thing and if they should take the blame for the lack of opportunity among young people today.
“In the Sixties though there was the ethos of ‘You go out and make something of yourself, make your own nest egg, make your own opportunities’ so perhaps the Sixties generation cannot be blamed for what happened later. It’s a good debate.”
Given its focus on how economics and recession affect opportunity, Love, Love, Love will have a deep resonance for Irish audiences, despite its very British setting.
“Very much so,” agrees James. “We can’t wait to see what Irish audiences take from it and what they debate post-show. Younger generations will identify with the younger characters who cannot get on the housing market and who are frustrated by life being limited by the economy.”
At heart, though, Love, Love, Love is very much a comedy driven by strong characters and it is there to entertain and to be enjoyed as much as it is there to make you think.
“There are a lot of laughs,” says James. “It’s a black comedy and Mike’s writing uses a lot of humour as humour is something that exists in everyday life. The last act is challenging but we will have a good laugh along the way.”
The cast features Ben Addis (Kenneth ), James Barrett (Jamie ), Simon Darwen (Henry ), and Rosie Wyatt (Rose ), but James admits it is Sandra who is likely to steal the show. Sandra is played by Lisa Jackson whom many will recognise from her roles in the BBC’s Dirk Gently and Waking The Dead.
“Sandra is larger than life,” says James. “She has get up and go and wants it all, and lives the fullest possible life. In the final act she is unforgiving of her children. She believes they had opportunities to make something of themselves despite the economy and that they should have done better. Some people love her and some find her obnoxious, but out of everyone she asks the most questions about how we should lead our lives.”
Love, Love, Love will be staged in the Town Hall from Tuesday July 12 to Saturday 16 at 8pm with a matinee on Saturday 16 at 2pm. There will be a post-show talk with James Grieve, Mike Bartlett, and the cast, on Wednesday 13. Tickets are available from the festival box office on Forster Street and through www.galwayartsfestival.com and www.ticketmaster.ie