Saturday, 16 May 2015

Theatre review: The Verb, 'To Love'

The Old Red Lion joins the ranks of pub theatres staging musicals, although The Verb, 'To Love' is more like gently dipping a toe into the water: Andy Collyer's show is almost a musical monologue, to a piano accompaniment. It charts an entire relationship from beginning to end and beyond, from the perspective of Simon (Martin Neely,) who at the beginning is in his mid-forties and coping badly with the end of a relationship that lasted over half his lifetime so far. Having been ditched for a younger man he feels like he's on the shelf until he finds a younger man of his own: Ben is, he's all too aware, young enough to be his son, but they hit it off and the relationship genuinely works - they stay together for several years, even moving towns a couple of times as Ben's career progresses.

But as Ben becomes a success Simon finds himself playing second fiddle, so he's once again unprepared to go it alone when this relationship too runs its course.

The Verb, 'To Love' is a likeable rather than groundbreaking show, but if there's not a huge variety in the music the songs are never dull. The whole show was apparently built out of the central number "Me & My Chlorophytum," in which Simon attempts to live alone with only a pot-plant for company; and this is also the strongest of the songs. In Jonathan O'Boyle's simple production Neely has a strong voice and a likeable presence - even when Simon's post-breakup mourning leads him to act pretty unreasonably (in a way the song title "Talking / Stalking" makes self-explanatory.)

One of the cleverest touches is that there is actually a second actor; but Gareth Bretherton spends almost the entire show as only the piano accompanist. He only starts to sing (very well) the role of Ben once the pair's relationship has reached the point of no return. It's a clever and effective way to show that up until this point Simon has been very much giving us his side of the story, ignoring anything that contradicts the perfect relationship he's describing; now Ben has to shatter both his and the audience's illusions. It's a show whose protagonist has to face some bitter truths, but it remains sweetly optimistic that he'll eventually find his way on his own.

The Verb, 'To Love' by Andy Collyer is booking until the 23rd of May at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 5 minutes straight through.

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