Love, Love, Love is an amazing play #richardarmitage

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I repeat emphatically herewith that I know nothing more than any other fan about the final casting on this play. Many fans have bought tickets. Everyone should review her/his own level of willingness to accept risk in making that decision based on spotty evidence up till now. A risk that might be acceptable to me could create hardship for others. This post constitutes no argument for or against whether Armitage is doing this show. IT’S ALL SPECULATION.


Mike Bartlett (Writer) and Richard Armitage | Wild Press Night Photo: © Alice Boagey 2016 – Source.

Mike Bartlett (Writer) and Richard Armitage | Wild Press Night
Photo: © Alice Boagey 2016 – Source.


I couldn’t resist, so bought a used copy of Mike Bartlett‘s play Love Love Love (2010). Bartlett is more well-known in the U.S. as the playwright of the recent, multiply award-winning King Charles III, and in the UK as the writer of the recent television series, Doctor Foster. Love, Love, Love has flown under the radar among Bartlett’s projects, although it won a UK Theatre Award for Best Play (2011) and played at the Royal Court Theatre. Whether or not Armitage does this play, I am delighted I had the opportunity to read the script.

This is a really brisk play — five characters, three acts, two and a half hours — and the playbook, anyway, is unputdownable. I sat down last night with 116 pages and when I noticed I had to go to the bathroom at page 89, I took a deep breath and crossed my legs till I finished the play. (So yeah, if you see this in the theater make sure to visit the ladies’ before the play because you will not want to get up.) The first thing I thought this morning when I woke up was that I wanted to write about it. It’s that good.  I can’t help but compare it to The Crucible, with the frustrating ritardando at the beginning of the fourth act and the end of the fourth act that doesn’t really make sense in light of the rest of the play. In contrast, this play is tight — it shows rather than tells, except perhaps at the very end, and every word is important. It has a fairly coherent theme and message but it leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The dialogue is very naturalistic. I wouldn’t exactly call it a comedy — or if so, it is really dark — but more a serious drama with a significant dose of black humor. Or, perhaps, a very dark parody. What we understand the play to be and what we think the play is saying, naturally, will depend heavily on how it’s staged and how these characters — none of them especially likeable — are portrayed.

I’m not going to provide a detailed plot summary in consideration of anyone who really wants to see the play while still not knowing much about it. At the center are two characters, Kenneth and Sandra, who come of age in the late 1960s. The first scene deals with the circumstances under which they met, in the apartment of Kenneth’s brother, Henry. Kenneth and Sandra marry and have two children, Jamie and Rose; the second scene portrays a vital turning point in their marital and family lives. Finally, the third scene shows them at another potential point of epiphany for various family members, set in Kenneth’s and Sandra’s early retirement.

I’ve read a few times now that the play is an indictment of the baby boomer generation — that’s one reading. I think it would be more correct to say that the play dramatizes the origins and grounds of conflict between the boomers and Generation X. It gives the slight advantage or sympathy to Generation X in the end, but it’s not like the Xers in this script come off especially positively, either. I know that reading it, I found reflections in the script of things that family members and I have actually said to each other (although my parents just missed out on being boomers and are nothing like Kenneth and Sandra and I am just a little older than Jamie and Rose) and things that I hear in the generational conflict around me all the time. Again, being purposely vague, I found myself getting really angry when I heard things from Kenneth’s mouth that I occasionally heard from my parents. At the same time, seeing myself in the position of Rose in Act Three was eerie — looking at a potential reflection of my own frustrations with the age I live in simultaneously from inside and outside was, to put it mildly, unsettling. She articulates questions and problems that I wonder about myself but the outsider perspective is crucial for evaluating whether one agrees. One thing that is interesting to think about with regard to the generational investment in this play is that although presumably Armitage will be playing Kenneth (or so we hope), he himself is a member of Jamie and Rose’s generation, almost exactly, and he has a life path with significant similarities to Rose’s. That may make him a more empathetic (cough) Kenneth, although of the two parents, Kenneth is definitely the more likeable (more about this in a second, as it points to a problem in the play for me).

Act Two is particularly enthralling. On the one hand, I can’t imagine that an actual British family would ever behave in this way (so, important potential perspectival point — what seems over the top to a British reader and thus comedic or parodic seems slightly less so to me, and thus more cynical). As the dialogue accelerates, I pressed my fist into my mouth and clenched my shoulders. Again, I don’t know how they will play this, but there is potentially here for a solid twenty minutes of a rapt audience that just can’t take their eyes off the stage. But we will also laugh because this act is just so — incredible, in the sense that the dialogue simultaneously forces the action in a particular direction, even as it seems impossible people would say these things to each other. For once, I am going to agree with Armitage, or rather, I would say, the reader can accept the “elegant absurdity” precisely because the “attack” is so “dynamic.” It doesn’t leave the reader (in this case) with any room at all to breathe.

Philosophically, I have only one issue with the play after reading it the first time, and this may be both more important to me than to other viewers and also highly dependent on how the role is played — via Sandra, the play involves a superficial critique of feminism. In a cast of characters who are all, on some level, conscious caricatures, she comes in for the most caricature. I understand that one of the things the play means intentionally to skewer is the outcome of all the ideas that seemed radical in 1967. Feminism should not be exempt from that action. None of the characters are treated sympathetically by the script so she should not be, either. At the same time, however, she is assigned more responsibility in Acts One and Three for driving the negative outcomes in this family’s life, while Kenneth is given a passive role. Even his sins seem passive. I understand that that, too, is part of Bartlett’s social critique, while I think that audiences inclined to blame feminists for the world’s ills might get a decent amount of fuel from this character.

In the end, the thing I possibly admire most about the play is that it takes an important contemporary problem in a timeless way. This happens because the play is so spare and coherent in dialogue, action, and conflict. Its script is executed entirely without padding. It never tries to be cute or complicated; there are no detours; and thus it gives rise to the strong illusion of describing things as they actually are. It never wanes in intensity and throughout I felt as present in the story as I do in my own life — something rare in my experience of the arts. It’s something I think about a lot in my own fiction writing — I struggle with endings in particular — how do I avoid taking on something that’s been written about for centuries without being trite or smarmy, without losing the audience’s attention, without descending into stereotype? The striking ending of this play makes clear that the central conflict remains unresolved. It doesn’t want to tie up its loose end. This is why I think that the reading of the play as indictment of the boomers is flawed — because as much as I end up disliking Kenneth and especially Sandra, I still can’t tell whether I should sympathize with or scream at Rose at the end. And I am a member of her generation.

Regarding Armitage — if he were to play Kenneth, this would be a significant departure from most of the roles in which all post-North & South fans have seen him up until now. He’s not a hero; he’s not active; he fails to live up to his own potential and he fails his family, repeatedly; at least one of his decisions in the play is morally reprehensible; he’s mostly “in it for himself” and doesn’t see why he shouldn’t be; he is largely unaware of how his decisions affect others — in the end, he is irresponsible. At the same time, it’s hard to call him a villain either (as the play makes clear — this is perhaps the ironic subtext of the play: that Rosie and James’ failures to launch mimic their parents’ behaviors as much as they call those behaviors into question.) I can’t venture to say what difficulties Armitage might experience with this role — but I can absolutely see the attraction.


ps For those, like me, who are still saying “how did Armitage get that thin?” I wonder if he’s trying to get wiry enough to play Kenneth, who is nineteen in the first scene.

~ by Servetus on June 21, 2016.

41 Responses to “Love, Love, Love is an amazing play #richardarmitage”

  1. Thanks for the overview!

    • Thanks — I might write another one once more people are aware of the actual plot. I mostly wanted to communicate that this is not going to be like the Crucible where a viewer has to decide if they really want to sit through a lengthy performance of a classic — it’s tight, fast and it grabs you right away.

  2. Thanks so much for the review. Given the title, it sounded like it could be more like a bit of fluff. Now it sounds much more intriguing. Interesting to note that Mike Bartlett also wrote “Doctor Foster”. I watched it recently on Netflix and it was really great. Again, people do things that really push the boundaries of what we hope that people would do and say in real life. Looks like I’m going to have to save for a trip to NYC.

    • No, this is definitely NOT fluff. Depending on how they play it could be funnier or less funny; there are definitely comic moments; but there is no happy ending.

  3. Thanks for this review. Now you’ve persusded me to go find a copy of the play. Interesting stuff. The setting would be when my parents were settling down. My parents are a bit too old to be the Woodstock-type, but they were rather unorthodox and anti-authoritarian in their semi-conservative way if it makes any sense. In other words, they were rebellious on the quiet side. I wonder if I can see some similarities.

    • Somehow I’m guessing that you’re not going to see a lot of your parents in Kenneth and Sandra, but it’s worth checking out anyway. There’s rebellion and then there’s rebellion …

  4. Very cool! Your enthusiasm is contagious- I mean, I’m naturally really revved up about maybe seeing RA perform live, but from the review I read (your earlier link) the subject matter of the play didn’t grab my interest especially. I never expected that it (the script itself) would be enthralling in the way you described. So I think if he’s NOT in it, I’ll read the play just on your recommendation, but if he is in it, I think I’d rather be surprised. =)

    • I tried to be as vague as possible on details for that reason mainly — there are at least two really potentially shocking events in the play and I think the play will be somewhat more effective if you don’t know about them ahead of time. I just couldn’t not read the play in advance, I’m like that. But I think it’s a great example of contemporary British theater. I like that they are coming away from hypermodernistic / postmodernist plays. That’s fine, but in the end I go to theater to see a story.

      • Yeah, it’s weird how I would rush right out and read a book if he was in a movie or even rumored to be considering a movie based on a book, but for a play I would somehow rather be surprised. I’m grateful you didn’t specify exactly what is shocking, yet let us know that the potential is there. Increased my anticipation tenfold. =)

  5. Do you think they will play it as Americans, or as Brits? Is it a British play in that there is no doubt where the play is taking place? Or could these characters be any nationality? Apologies if this question has already been asked somewhere else.

    • Interesting question — the play includes a number of fairly specific British references (Kenneth and Sandra study at Oxford University, for instance) that would have to be modified, and the casting call for the minor roles asked for actors to do “standard British” accents. So I am guessing they will play it as Brits. But given that the boomer / Gen X conflict is part of most western countries, I do think the play could be modified (albeit substantially) to play in other cultures.

  6. Now I need to find this and read it…. Thank you!

  7. Now I hope he’s doing it even more than before ☺ It sounds amazing, even though you spared us the spoilers….and quite a departure for Richard, which is also exciting ☺👏👏 Thanks for sharing!

    • I was trying to think of a character that Kenneth is similar to that Armitage has played but came up empty. The closest is Paul Andrews, maybe, but it’s not a very close match. They have a similar maturity level in some ways, but that’s it.

  8. Thanks for the post. I am waiting for news that he is in the play before booking my (12 months planning) trip to England in the fall. Might need to do a couple day layover in NYC before heading home to CA.

    • yeah, everybody’s going to have different considerations — for some people it’s nothing if they make a plan and it doesn’t materialize while for others it would be a serious sacrifice. Everyone’s got to figure it out.

      • I am looking at 9/26 – 10/12 in London as a home base, with a side trip to Scotland. Then I discovered I could do a day trip to Paris. 🙂 Need to do a cost analysis of a segmented trip (SFO-London-NYC-SFO) or reverse it and see the play before heading across the pond. Decisions, decisions. Might need to pick up more hours at work.

        • How about a cost-benefit analysis? Don’t forget the benefit.

        • I would say that in general, if you can avoid it, you don’t want to see a play in previews, if you are paying for a full price ticket. There are exceptions to that rule, of course — it’s the ARMITAGE — but from the perspective of seeing a more effective, professional staging of the play, I would suggest seeing it on your way back. It only opens 9/22 and press night is after your planned return, but I’d still pick the later date. They should have most of the bugs ironed out by then.

          • Serv, That is what I was thinking. I remember early on with The Crucible and some of the kinks needing to be worked out. Especially with the almost four hour play run.

            • This isn’t going to be that bad, insofar as this play has a run time of 2.5 hours, and has only five characters (there could be 12 or more people on stage at a time in The Crucible), and, I think, will not need any “effects” to be successful. Nobody’s going to be dropping burnt garbage bags from the attic or smudging the theater with sage this time around. Even so, a play kind of has a curve and it’s usually not at its best either at the very beginning or the very end.

              • Well, I thought The Crucible was wonderful 😉 😉 at the very end. Was there for three performances including closing night. Wondering if I could break it into two different round trip flights with one being SFO/NYC and then NYC/LHR. Several options to boggle my brain right now. At least the theatre is centrally located for easy access from JFK/LGA. Just know the hotels are cheap.

                • A lot of people told me they felt like it lost energy toward the last third of the performances, but then of course Yael Farber flew in to freshen the whole thing up. I don’t know b/c I only saw it when I saw it. I personally love comparisons, so I love that idea of seeing it at two different times.

                  re: hotels, the NY state legislature just passed a bill that would effectively end airBnb in Manhattan. If the governor signs it, hotel prices will probably rise as well. Not sure when that would go into effect, though, or if there wouldn’t be legal challenges / injunctions, etc.

                  • Really?!? So this law could potentially go into effect in days/weeks? Or do you fully expect that it would be challenged very quickly?

                    • i don’t live in NY and none of the news reports I’ve seen have identified a date when it would be expected to go into effect. I doubt it would be immediate in any case. I’m sure airBnb would want to challenge it — but a challenge would depend on whether there were any legal grounds for doing so, and if it happened, a delay would require the appropriate judge to issue an injunction on the implementation of the law, I would think. In addition to not being a New York person, I’m also not a lawyer, just a very avid news reader 🙂

                  • For me there was no other time I could compare it to since I saw it three times over the course of four days at the end. It was a five day whirlwind since I had never been out of the US and I got to see RA in The Crucible.

                    I live just north of San Francisco and we are having air bnb battles in SFO. Last time I visited NYC I stayed in a Best Western in Newark with my dad. Not the ideal place to stay in NJ, however, the price was half of what they were asking in NYC. We just took the hotel shuttle to the train station and took PATH over. Luckily there are two major train stations in mid-town so there is a possibility of staying in NJ? Might look at Newark Airport too. Loving all these possibilities.

  9. On Richard Armitage’s thinness, I saw him in Leeds last November for the Urban showings and my first thought was how thin he was so I don’t think, seven months later, that his current shape is related to playing a specific part in this play.

    • I haven’t seen him physically, only pictures, and he was then for Berlin Station. But he looks even thinner to me now, especially considering the beard adds weight.

  10. Our friend is directing Mike Bartlett’s ‘Love, Love, Love’ here in my own city in September. I have absolutely no chance of ever getting to see Richard Armitage in a play, ever, so I will be definitely going to see Carl’s production. I haven’t spoken to him about it for a while, but I know he was excited about the prospect of being able to put on the play here.

    • I can’t say to anyone really that they will “love” this play but I would recommend it strongly after reading it.

  11. Sounds intriguing – even though still a bit vague as to plot. Cool that you don’t want to give anything away. Looks like I will have to acquire this for myself for my summer reading list. 🙂

    • Very worthwhile read. I am still thinking about it days later, although to be fair, it touches an issue that came up regularly for me at work in the past few years and touches my life now.

  12. Have read many descriptions about the play in other places and I must say I have enjoyed reading yours the most. It just seems the most well thought-out and rounded description. Definitely makes you want to go see it. 🙂 Reg: the picture Oh, dear Richard you really need a few more lbs on you, thin is one thing, but this seems beyond.

    • It’s hard to write about a play without discussing the plot, so that may be part of the problem. It’s also, I suppose, a potential way of playing to emphasize one side or another of the conflict. We’ll have to see what they do in the end.

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