Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 18 March 2012

The Well and Badly Loved

Ovalhouse ⋄ 13th - 31st March 2012

A trilogy of lost love.

Ben Monks

The Well and Badly Loved begins as a poetry recital: Tom, 20-something, reads from ‘So Little of You Left’, also the title of the first of three short plays that make up the evening. Within moments, the reading collapses in a flurry of dropped scripts and falling rain as an orgasm shudders through Tom’s body and booms through the tiny theatre’s speakers. It sets the tone for everything to follow – a frenetic battle between language and body as writer-director Ben Webb takes us deep inside a relationship in all its intimate, gorgeous, brutal detail.

The trilogy follows Tom (the excellent Sean Hart) and his relationship with Matt (James Murfitt). The first piece, ‘So Little of You Left’, opens up from poetry reading into duologue, tracing Tom and Matt’s relationship from an early meeting to its bitter end. The second, ‘His Spread Legs’, a monologue delivered by Tom in his flat one year after the break-up, is a scintillating, bitter-sweet rhapsody on love. The third, ‘The Actor Has Told Of His Pain’, takes us back to Tom and Matt’s flat; as they divide up their things and prepare to move out, Matt’s ex Jonny (Jonny Liron) lurks in the background, an embodiment of loves past.

The three pieces lurch between forms and styles as Webb strives for different routes underneath the skin of Tom and Matt’s relationship. We go from epic love poetry to wordless physicality; images are picked up, explored, echoed and dropped across the trilogy. Imogen Knight’s striking choreography is often as powerful as Webb’s text: faced with his break-up from Matt, Tom runs round and round and round the stage, for minutes, exhaustingly. It’s as affecting a portrayal of a post-break-up loss of purpose, objective and expression as the language ever captures.

But for all its breathless ambition and textual richness (full of quotes from Gertrude Stein and The Song of Solomon, with a soundtrack encompassing Handel and Black Lace), there’s something missing at its core. The production is the final full-length run in Oval House’s If Only… season, a series of shows dedicated to “performance driven by an ambition for complexity.” The season tries to ask “if change is possible”, and how to invoke “a call to revolution” in a century lacking belief and ideology; an invitation “to see without needing to believe.” It’s ambitious stuff, but it’s in danger of lacking focus – and The Well and Badly Loved illustrates this.

Too often, the piece isn’t so much complex and challenging as muddled and unclear; it’s all very well to skip belief and head straight to the revolution, but we’ve still got to understand what we’re rejecting. In attempting to grapple with these difficult ideas, Webb’s production loses a sense of purpose, and so much is laid bare that the play’s self-declared central question – “what is the weight of love?” – becomes lost. When he reins things in – as with ‘His Spread Legs’, by far the strongest section, delivered for the most part under a single lightbulb on an all but empty stage – we see the hallmarks of focussed, impassioned discourse that are missing from the pieces either side. If only Webb had found that same deftness of touch throughout.


Ben Monks is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

The Well and Badly Loved Show Info

Produced by Risking Enchantment

Written by Ben Webb




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