Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Theatre review: Time is Love/Tiempo es Amor

It’s got to be something of a coup for a 50-seat theatre to land a recent Olivier winner – in a supporting role no less – but there’s a couple of reasons Sheila Atim might be happy to lend a bit of star power to the fringe: Not only has she worked with writer/director Chè Walker before, she’s also composed the original music for his latest play, Time Is Love/Tiempo es Amor. Walker’s Been So Long, recently reinvented as a Netflix film, had a strong flavour of London but the playwright subsequently moved to Los Angeles, and that’s the location, and the atmosphere he tries to capture here. This is partly through a film noir-ish feel to the story of Blaz (Gabriel Akuwudike,) who spends three years in prison after a robbery goes wrong. His friend Karl (Benjamin Cawley) was the one who talked him into it, but managed to get away; but apart from missing his friend he doesn’t seem to have much regret for what he got him into, if anything acting like he’s the wronged party.

Karl has some bad news for Blaz on his release: Not only has his girlfriend Havana (Jessica Ledon) been cheating on him, but it’s with Seamus (Cary Crankson,) the policeman who arrested Blaz in the first place.

With all the talent involved, Walker’s bilingual play is a disappointment that manages to be both slight and rambling. It’s told with frequent jumps back and forth in time that don’t really disguise the fact that not a lot happens beyond everyone cheating on each other and lying about it. The dialogue has a poetic, dreamlike quality that seems to be aiming for a kind of Philip Ridley magic realism (sex turning people into pterodactyls seems like something Ridley would come up with) but never fits in comfortably with the rest of the story. It doesn’t help that Walker has got his actors to deliver the dialogue in a remarkably low-energy, stilted style, with Ledon, who comes to the Finborough from the original LA production, particularly wooden.

A lot is thrown at the stage, but not consistently: Sasha Frost’s Serena The Sex Worker is the most likeable character but her role as narrator is forgotten for most of the play; Atim’s music proves a highlight, atmospherically accompanying moments when dance is integrated into the performance, but this too is used so sporadically as to feel like it’s come out of a different production. Akuwudike and Atim manage to breathe a bit of life into their characters despite the restrictions put on their performances, but despite Walker throwing a lot of ideas and styles at the stage this is most likely to be memorable only for Atim having a lengthy monologue about getting rimmed.

Time Is Love/Tiempo es Amor by Chè Walker is booking until the 26th of January at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: DWGH Photos.

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