Dublin Theatre Festival 2019: A Love Like That
Nights in White Slippers
Lost lives. Lost loves. Lost souls. In Billy Roche’s latest play, “A Love Like That,” a rural library on the verge of closing finds its staff and readers venturing into new beginnings. If Roche’s work is recognised for it its local charm and sense of nostalgia, both are slathered on in a story that strives for a depth it never quite reaches. Yet there are some fine moments in Roche’s tale of people trying to live a life, infused with an undercurrent of romance that refuses to lie down.
From the get go, theatrical and narrative devices come large and a little obvious. A Chekhovian bow and arrow in the first act placed there primarily to be used later, a Lear’s fool who might be the wisest of them all, a plain Jane, spinster librarian with hidden sexual desires just waiting to run rampant; it’s all a little too easy and comfortable. Complications, when they arise, are also a little obvious. A former boyfriend who returns home lamenting the one that got away. A bookworm widower secretly in love but too afraid to say anything. A young librarian looking to do better for herself but who might have to step on someones aspirations to do so. As their lives collude and collide their cozy community starts to rupture from pressures within as much as from without. Will they still have a future together in the walls of the new library?
Under Andrew Flynn’s understated direction ”A Love Like That” often sparks, but it never consistently ignites, despite many of its individual components being simply cracking. Most notably Ciaran Bagnall’s sumptuous set, resembling your ideal bookshop with its Hogwarthian nooks and crannies rather that the functional, civil servant library most will know. All stepped in warm, sepia toned shadows courtesy of Bagnall’s superlative lighting. If Carl Kennedy’s piano bar soundtrack sets the emotional temperature to tepid, a strong cast, particularly post-intermission, work hard to generate some real sparks. Lalor Roddy’s homeless John-Joe delivers a paragon of soft spoken wisdom, with Peter Gowen’s bookish Aidan, a man with hidden depths, being superbly realised in Gowen's wonderfully nuanced performance. Layabout and ladies man Lance, sees Geoff Minogue handle the ageing lothario with all the casual nonchalance of the professional beguiler. Jane McGrath’s Debbie, looking decidedly at ease in this older world, turns in a terrific performance. As does Lesley McGuire as senior librarian Ellen, whose hidden depths Lance's shallow waters might not be able to handle.
Despite its themes of lives changing, moments lost, and the past slipping into an uncertain future, ”A Love Like That” comes with a ready charm. Leaning towards the easiness of Maeve Binchy, "A Love Like That’s” study in loneliness may not always burn bright, but it always glows warmly. If romance might be hobbled in this modern age, with its The Once and Future King, Prince Charming, and Robin Hood references "A Love Like That” is not quite ready to throw in the romantic towel just yet. Knights in white slippers are still to be had, even when damsels discover they might not be in need of rescuing. A cozy, comforting, experience, ”A Love Like That” feels like curling up to a mid-week, mid-afternoon movie, full of old school, middle of the road charm. It’s not for everyone, but those who like it might find they like it a lot.
"A Love Like That” by Billy Roche, presented by Decadent Theatre, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 at The Civic Theatre until October 5.