Review: The Best of the Love Bites Plays, Southwark Playhouse

Love Bites is an excellent concept: five one-act plays produced for an evening’s entertainment, all on the subject of Love, with one linking motif e.g. every play is set at the same restaurant table, or in different hotel rooms. In this evening’s one-off show, five of the best plays from previous programmes are shown together.

‘Like It Never Happened’ takes place in a hotel room during a conference where two drunken delegates are attempting an erotic encounter. Both Tina and Rob are married to others, but lashings of corporate booze, topped up with mini-bar miniatures, has released their inner adulterers. It is a scene that has happened countless times in modern history, and writer Bea Appleby nails the self-pity, frustration and aching loneliness inside these slurring buffoons who could be any of us. Funny and wincingly sad.

‘Down in One’ by Ziella Bryars, who also produces Love Bites, gives us an anteroom to a party to which 30-something Elle, has retreated with Ollie, the 24 year old brother of a friend. She wants to take a breather from the competitive chatter which is making her, an underachiever, feel low; he has an ulterior motive. This is a substantial piece which hinges on Elle’s confidence as well as her sense of propriety: should she accept a date with young Ollie? She bats him away again and again until he makes one key declaration which turns everything on its head. ‘Down in One’ is an enjoyable and insightful journey, played with well-paced sensitivity by Hannah James and Matt Granados.

‘Sarah and Sarah’ gives us best friends, Bradford-girls, one of them working in a posh firm in London who has invited her mate to a works party. The North-South divide is at issue here, with pretentious London coming off worst (shades of John Godber). Perhaps it is the departure from the expected erotic theme, or the shouty acting, but I failed to engage with the characters.

‘Kentish Town’ by Daniel Frankenburg is a short, tightly written vignette of an adulterous couple, with a rich subtext heaving beneath the spoken words. Max has burnt his boats and told his wife about Sarah, but Sarah has reneged on her pledge to tell her husband about Max, and is going on holiday with hubby to Mexico instead of staying in Kentish Town with her lover. Sam Phillips captures beautifully Max’s poignant realisation that all is not well, and the play is charged and compelling throughout.

Finally, ‘Blind Date’, again by Ziella Bryars, is the most surreal of the bunch. Emma’s date is with an invisible other: we hear just her side of the conversation which gradually discloses what a thoroughly unstable prospect for a relationship she is. Helen Manders is a hugely likeable actress who plays scary Emma with a lovely ironic sunniness. Lots of laughs, but safe to leave this one at sketch-length, unlike ‘Down in One’ which would bear development.

On the strength of tonight, Love Bites looks a Very Good Thing. Keep your eyes peeled for future projects


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