What is love? Does human desire change through time? Or are we all eternally searching for an impossible union somewhere between the physical and the emotional? Moira Buffini’s wryly satirical play charts a chaotic trail of seduction, transaction and romantic aspiration that takes place on a single spot of ground across 2000 years.
Pragmatic, intellectual, occasionally even brutal, these transient sexual encounters are ironically reflected in the fortunes of a patch of scrubland, as it evolves from Roman latrine to sacred cloister and ultimately to the steel and concrete of commercial London.
Director Ben Kernow says, “The play threads a fine line between the tragic and the comic in human relationships. What can be more tragic than an endless cycle of, often unfulfilled, desire continually repackaged in the social conventions of different ages? And at the same time, that’s the perfect recipe for comedy.”
There wasn't much foreplay during this Loveplay - they just got right down to it from the start!
Sex and love were two topics firmly in the spotlight at the Minack, where relationships and couplings during the past 2,000 years, some comic, some tragic, were acted out in often explicit detail.
No wonder Miracle Theatre star Ben Kernow, making his director's debut at the open air theatre, has wanted to present this piece written by Moira Buffini, since he first saw it at his drama school several years ago.
All 10 tales are set in the same spot, which is variously a Roman latrine, cloister, abbey, middle class home, studio and tower block.
Of course, anyone who knows Ben's quirky, expressive style of acting, would have loved to see him on this stage too, but he has put his ideas into the hands of a quartet of clever young actors, who laugh, cry, romp and often emotionally limp through a series of set pieces, dating from Roman Britain in AD79.
Minack executive director Zoe Curnow heads the production team including designer Marion Harrison, stage manager Millie Brolly and Simon Hutchings, lighting design.
The four well-contrasted actors are Elena Valentine, Dan Bottomley, who has also linked each sexual encounter with a familiar tune or song, Georgia Nicholson and Liam Jeavons, whose sometimes diffident characters reminded me strongly of the delicious Paul Mescal from television's Ordinary People.
Mind you, he's not remotely backward in coming forward as he tosses a coin to buy the favours of a spirited Geordie lass, in the opening scene - no foreplay here, then.
The play is very funny, very explicit, and the sexual theme is right in your face from the off. This is adult-only material all right.
That said, the action is never simply titillating, it always has a sharp satirical edge. There are thoughtful, occasionally brutal observations, jealousy driven reactions, lesbian nuns in search of a visionary experience, gay friends and the necessarily ephemeral encounter between an MP and his family's governess.
Most touching is a scene between a scientist and the young man she has hired to strip, on the grounds that she wants to "empirically investigate the nature of man" - she needs to touch him, to hug him, but then she rejects his natural response.
We share Renaissance relationships, moving to the Age of Enlightenment, and on through the years to the 20th century and an hilarious wife-swapping party in the Sixties, to The Present, where speed-dating couples touch elbows, wear masks and take selfies - at a distance, of course.
A Saucy Romp through Two Thousand Years
With ominous threats of a second lock down left firmly at home, there was an overwhelming sense of having escaped from reality as we sat on the cliffs at Porthcurnow in blazing October sunshine. The usual pre show buzz was heightened as this was, for many audience members, their first visit to a theatre in months.
Having been established just two years ago the North Cornwall based Ha – Hum – Ah are still a relatively new company on the local scene; their fabulous Christmas shows of 2018 and 2019 were warmly received and garnered a strong fan base. The Minack team have a history of working alongside local companies with an annual programme delivering a happy mix of both Cornish companies and household names; Covid doesn’t have much in the way of a positive note, but it has opened the door to a wider selection of local creatives working with the world famous Minack.
Moira Buffini’s story opens in AD79 and is a series of witty, sexy vignettes through 2000 years as we explore different eras and attitudes towards love, lust and money. There is also a strong sense of place with the stories unfolding on the same plot of London throughout; the horror of rape at the start of the tale echoes within the imaginary walls as the years unfold and the site evolves from Roman latrines to present day modernity.
Loveplay is a very funny, sometimes brutal, often moving and constantly entertaining look at love from a variety of perspectives. The terrific cast of four don’t miss a beat as they confidently charge through 90 minutes of fast paced character, costume and set changes.
Brilliantly directed by Ben Kernow, Loveplay is simply superb.
Review by Richard Cormac
Sitting down in a theatre to review a show for the first time in over 7 months will certainly be one of my highlights of 2020. I have been to the amazing, open-air, Minack Theatre a number of times both as audience member and performer and it is extraordinary in so many ways. The fact that, as soon as it was able to open after the national lockdown, it got a season of shows up and running with audiences flocking to watch, is to their enormous credit. With a number of alterations to the theatre made and working on a 30% or so capacity, it has shown what can be done. Support for this jewel of a theatre has been tremendous from the public.
In Ben Kernow (founder of Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre Company, who The Minack have partnered with for this production) the Theatre has found an inspiring, willing and motivated actor/director who jumped at the chance to be able to offer some work to unemployed actors and provide much needed entertainment for the theatre-starved.
To sit on a cliffside in October in a chill wind for 90 minutes and watch a play without an interval, may seem like desperate measures to get ones fix, but the crowd, who turned up for this production of LOVEPLAY by Moira Buffini, will have gone home with desire satiated and thirst quenched.
LOVEPLAY is an episodic look at love and sex, played out over 2000 years in the same, ever-changing location. So, we start in the Dark Ages and then drift through the Middle Ages, the Tudors, the Victorians and hence we come up to date. The vignettes differ in length and tone, but explore many of the same facets of the bonding of humans. At times, the writers’ tongue is firmly in cheek, while at others, there is something more serious and sinister to share with the audience. There moments of laugh out loud comedy – the ridiculous dance sequence for instance – and moments of supreme tenderness – the men whose love for each other they have always had to deny.
The very nature of episodic theatre is that some sections will work better than others and that is the case here; the faux Shakespearean tale slightly overstays its welcome and I wanted rather more of the prim and proper woman who realises she needs to see a man ‘in a state of undress’ – it was intriguing and ended too soon. But these are small caveats; the play is never less than entertaining and provocative – within the first 10 minutes we have broad comedy and rape.
Tackling all the roles are four actors who completely throw themselves into the script and all produce exceptional performances; Elena Valentine, Georgia Nicholson, Dan Bottomley and Liam Jeavons provide a wonderful showreel of characterisations with depth and a glint in the eye.
Keeping continuity between the ten scenes is always going to be a challenge and here the production offers an inventive and perfect answer. Incidental music is not, in itself, an original device but when modern day love songs are re-jigged to reflect the music of the era being portrayed, it is simply a stroke of genius – Dan Bottomley’s work here offers a considerable touch of class to the proceedings. The whole soundscape is smartly designed as is the lighting by Simon Hutchings which, when used well at The Minack, is almost a character in itself.
Ben Kernow, once again, demonstrates his strengths as a storyteller. He creates a free-flowing and visually satisfying production and marshals his actors without fuss but with precision and with the script always in mind. Direction like this can pass people by; the input of the director can appear to be invisible – that is the art and Kernow has it in spades.
LOVEPLAY is a challenging but engaging satire on how the issues which develop out of love and desire have changed little over 2000 years. By the end, are we any wiser about what love is or how one finds it? I think we are all still trying to answer that question – the answer may be out there somewhere! HA-HUM-AH Theatre Company are here able to demonstrate to a wider public the quality of their work and the possibilities they can offer; an opportunity that they are fully deserving of.
Bravo to everyone involved with bringing the production to the stage and offering a glimmer of light to the theatre stages everywhere.
Dan trained at ALRA. Past work with Ha-Hum-Ah includes Grimms’ Fairy Tales in 2018, the recent podcast adaptation of the adaptation It’s Grimm, and A Dickensian Christmas.
Theatre includes: Billy in Once (1st UK Tour), Eye of The Storm (Theatr na nÓg/Hong Kong & UK Tour); Moll Flanders (Mercury Theatre); Oberon’s Cure (Rude Mechanicals Theatre Co.); The Ladykillers, Hello, Dolly!, Single Spies, and A Chorus Of Disapproval (Pitlochry Festival Theatre); Pinocchio (Hiccup/Derby Theatre and Leicester Curve); Rudy in The Ballad of Rudy (Goblin); Hamlet (Young Shakespeare Co.); and the nastiest baddies in rock n roll pantos at Theatr Clwyd and City Varieties Music Hall.
Audio includes: Fox in Pinocchio (Goblin); The Wizard of Oz, Torchwood: The Conspiracy, Vienna and The New Adventure of Bernice Summerfield (Big Finish). He also has recorded voices for video games including the BAFTA award-winning Divinity: Original Sin 1 and 2, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Seven: The Days Long Gone. Dan also records audiobooks from his home bunker!
Composing and writing credits include: The Mouse and the Cactus (Goblin) and the original musical plays The House of Usher (Hope Theatre); and Offie nominated Peter and the Wolf (Goblin, National Tour).
Sound design includes: Fox, and Talk Radio (Old Red Lion) for which he was nominated for an Off West End award.
Screen credits include Mike Leigh's feature film Peterloo.
Dan can’t wait to brave the elements at the Minack this autumn.
This is Elena’s Minack debut, and marks her second collaboration with Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre after voicing Gretel in It’s Grimm during lockdown this year.
Elena spent the best part of two years pre-lockdown getting thrown around as Sandra in The Play that Goes Wrong, first on tour around the UK then in London’s West End. Other theatre credits include: Mina in Dracula (Resorts World Theatre Singapore, Ewing Entertainment) and the immersive Gatecrash (Zest, UK tour & Lyric Hammersmith).
TV credits include: Catherine Howard in Henry VIII and his Six Wives (Channel 5/Oxford Film & Television) and The Marshlands (Rogue Land Films).
Audio includes: The Mouse and the Cactus (Goblin); It’s Grimm (Ha-Hum-Ah), Offie nominated Talk Radio, and Fox (Old Red Lion); and the audiobook Not Quite a Superhero (Audible).
Elena trained at ALRA in London and is very excited to be making her Minack debut.
Georgia hails from the North East and trained at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts. Credits include- Inspector George Gently (BBC), The Cinder Path (Ion Productions) Aladdin (Whitley Bay Playhouse), The Lambton Worm (Customs House), The Pillory (Southwark Playhouse), The Dolly Mixtures (2016 and subsequent revival in 2019 for Customs House), Carnivores (Southwark Playhouse), My Uncle Freddie (Customs House), The Numbered Streets (Pack it In Productions), Beauty and the Beast (Customs House), Wild Boar (Southwark Playhouse), as well as JC Penney’s Spring Trends fashion campaign in the US.
Before lockdown Georgia was in rehearsals for Hetty Feather at the Minack and is absolutely thrilled to be back on this beautiful stage once more. Having previously worked with Ha Hum Hah Theatre back in 2013 on A Dickensian Christmas, Georgia was delighted to have worked on their recent musical podcast ‘It’s Grimm’ during the height of lockdown. Georgia wishes to thank you all for coming to see the show and for supporting the arts during this most difficult of times.
Originally from Birmingham, Liam Jeavons trained at The Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA), where he graduated in 2012.
Since then Liam has worked across Theatre, TV, and Film, as well as performing on the Stand Up Comedy Circuit.
He’s delighted to be joining the cast of Loveplay and to be performing at the Minack Theatre
Theatre Credits: Mischief Theatres The Comedy About A Bank Robbery (West End & UK Tour); Where Yow Frum (Birmingham Rep); Potted Panto (Garrick Theatre); The 39 Steps (Lyric Theatre Belfast); Accidental Brummie (The Birmingham Rep); Primetime (The Royal Court); Owen Wingrave (Aldeburgh Music Festival); Threeway (Old Red Lion); Around The world in 80 days (Vienna’s English Theatre)
Film & Television: Goodnight Sweetheart (BBC); WPC 56 (BBC); The Library (Independent Film); Father Brown (BBC); A Stolen Moment (Independent Film); Doctors (BBC)
Ben Kernow (Director)
Ben trained as an actor at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts (ALRA) graduating in 2013. As an actor he has worked with companies including Miracle Theatre, Frinton Repertory Theatre, Quirk Theatre, as well as the Minack Theatre, where he recently appeared in their production of Marie Jones’ Stones in His Pockets. He’s excited to be making his Minack directorial debut with Loveplay.
He Founded Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre in 2018, and the company has based themselves in Ben’s home of North Cornwall. Directing credits include Oh No It Isn’t!, A Dickensian Christmas & Grimms’ Fairy Tales (Ha-Hum-Ah Theatre), Careless Talk (Canal Cafe Theatre) & Border Control (Old Red Lion Theatre)
When not acting on the stage or screen himself he is never far away from the scene be it directing or writing. When he's not doing that he can be found in his small vineyard tending to his vines.