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Losing Louis
Hampstead Theatre, London

Rachel Wagstaff
posted 26 January 2005

Simon Mendes da Costa's new play, Losing Louis, delights and entertains in this excellent production at the Hampstead Theatre. It is slick, fast-paced, and littered with lines that had me in hysterics.

Set in a family bedroom in two time frames, the 1950s and present day, we see the effects of Louis' infidelity reverberating in his own lifetime, and in the aftermath of his death. The unfolding family saga is compelling and, as more and more is revealed, everything makes perfect sense, while not being wholly predictable. Although one would not imagine this to be the most likely material for amusement, perhaps the most striking thing about the play are the many excellently constructed and equally excellently delivered jokes, along with situations themselves that border on the farcical.

Robin Lefevre's directing is first class, not only in the way the scenes are seamlessly interwoven, but also in the attention to detail within the scenes themselves. After returning from the rather muddy and rainy burial, the characters come onstage suitably disgruntled, tights laddered and the gentlemen's trousers muddied at the bottom. Although the action all takes place in one room, it is never dull or claustrophobic to watch. The set is elaborate and a beautifully constructed main bedroom in a large family house. I was most impressed when I first walked in, and was still enjoying looking at the room's furnishings and props by the end of the production.

There is not a single weak link in the acting either. Alison Steadman and Lynda Bellingham are brilliant as the enthusiastic Sheila and her husband's brother's rather more glamorous wife, Elizabeth. David Horovitch and Brian Protheroe bring pathos and gravitas to their roles of Tony and Reggie. Anita Briem gives a lovely and touching performance as Bella, in love with Louis, and Jason Durr and Emma Cunniffe are both compelling as the 1950s couple, Louis and Bobbie.

The script is well constructed, as well as witty. As the play focuses on the complications of one particular family, it does not hold a great political message, but it explores emotions that most of us experience: the irrationality of love, and the inability to let go of our childhood memories and scars. I for one will be rushing out when the next Simon Mendes da Costa play emerges.

I was not alone in finding this play utterly engaging, and the warm response the audience gave throughout was matched by a highly enthusiastic curtain call. I can see why people are talking about this play deserving a West End transfer. The production itself is superb, and although the script may not change the world, it certainly makes for a highly enjoyable evening.

Till 19 February 2005

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