Huge yellow blocks line the back of the Lyric stage. Sometimes, these blocks represent the walls of Billy’s and Maggie’s long-time marital home. At other times, various dreams or memories are projected against them. These are the walls and shared moments that have held this couple together for so long. But in between these blocks sprawls an endless blackness, hinting at the memories that are beginning to fade and the death that wife, Maggie, will be embracing all too soon.
Memory plays are often clunky, over-sentimental affairs, and Abi Morgan’s, Love Song, created in collaboration with Frantic Assembly, does initially feel a tad manufactured. Following a projected title sequence, a now old Billy wistfully remarks, ‘In my sleep, I’m young again’, as his younger self sweeps on stage. But this isn’t a jolting and predictable flashback play. Instead, the past and present are fused fluently and imaginatively together, creating some tremendously rich moments.
As Billy (Sam Cox) and Maggie (Sian Phillips) tip toe around each other, skeletons – younger and prettier versions of themselves – emerge from the couple’s closet. And bed. And floorboards. Everywhere these two look, they find their younger selves staring back at them. When Billy calls out to Maggie, who is frequently stooped over in pain, a lither version of his wife slides into his arms. And when Billy reaches into the fridge, covered in post-it notes for the time when Maggie is gone, he is embraced by her younger self.
It isn’t only the transformation of this couple’s physical appearance that causes the breath to catch in one’s throat. This switch from sprightly to stumbling is painful enough – but it is the change in the way these two communicate that really impresses. The past is all noise and bustle, as the couple flirt, fight and tussle together. The present, in contrast, is painfully quiet and still, as the two slide around like strangers, too proud and too frightened to confront the truth.
There are only a few precious moments in which the couple really connect, and they are magical. Asleep in bed, having tried on her old high heels, Maggie dreams of dancing. Young William (Edward Bennet) sweeps into view and suddenly, Maggie is young again. The two glide across the stage together and Maggie blazes with happiness, as her body is released and she is reunited with her husband once more.