Theatre Review: ‘Love’ by Alexander Zeldin

Love,’ the latest National Theatre play from Alexander Zeldin, created through a devising process with his cast, is set in the run up to Christmas and tells the story of various families and individuals who are forced to live together in temporary accommodation. This is a raw, emotional observational play with fantastic performances from its talented cast of actors, and a compassionate, heart-wrenching look at those suffering under Britain’s deeply flawed social housing and benefit system.

Living in the temporary accommodation is a family of four squashed into one room: Dean (Luke Clarke), his two children, Paige and Jason (on press night, played by Emily Beacock and Yonaten Pelé Roodner respectively), and his partner Emma (Janet Etuk), who is heavily pregnant with their child. They had to move after being evicted from their flat when the rent was suddenly hiked up. Dean struggles to deal with bureaucracy, with the family’s benefits being cut as a result of being sanctioned after missing a job centre appointment. Despite explaining this was because the appointment was on the same day that they were evicted, they are met with no sympathy, and in a heartbreaking scene, live off small meals of microwavable rice that Dean shares three ways rather than four, insisting he’s already eaten.

15578139_10154858254129973_3068399154956366622_o-1024x684

They share a bathroom and communal kitchen with Thawra (Hind Swareldahab), a woman newly arrived from the Sudan who had leave her children behind. Then there’s Colin (Nick Holder), a middle aged, unemployed man and carer for his elderly mother Barbara (Anna Calder-Marshall), who have been there for almost twelve months. You’re technically only meant to be there for a few weeks, but this is common in the housing crisis. Emma responds in horror when she hears, desperate to leave before her due date, which is only three weeks away. Colin knows all about how the council and the benefits system will mess you about, but Emma insists their circumstances are different, and clings on to what little hope she has left. The newest arrival, Adnan (Ammar Haj Ahmad), has come from Syria, appears injured, and enjoys watching clips from ‘Billy Elliot’ on his phone. With the diverse array of characters living there, we see the numerous reasons that may result in someone having to take refuge in temporary accommodation.

‘Love’ has a fantastic set in the Dorfman Theatre, featuring harsh lighting, numerous rooms, and a kitchen where meals are prepared. It appears just like functioning housing, adding to the play’s strong sense of realism. The everyday is made highly compelling as the inhabitants struggle for space, severely lack privacy, and try to get by. The situation is often overwhelming, and tensions rise as they practically live on top of each other, resulting in some truly emotionally raw scenes. Ultimately, it is people’s endurance and ability to place hope and love at the forefront of their lives, even when going through the toughest times in the worst situation, that Zeldin underlines. The relationship between Colin and his mother is utterly touching and moving, and the love between Emma, Dean, and their children, is beautiful to behold.

15403808_10154858253684973_8927375596232244923_o-1024x684

Similar to this year’s brilliant film ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ directed by Ken Loach, Zeldin’s play highlights the fact these are people who have done nothing wrong yet are treated like they have. They’ve tried everything to comply with the council and get out of the supposedly ‘temporary’ accommodation. They are victims of the country’s lack of social housing and broken benefit system. They suffer immensely only to get nowhere, with Colin waiting five hours for a five minute appointment, only for his request to move out, aided by a doctor’s note for his mother, to be rejected. A completely engrossing and highly powerful piece of theatre, ‘Love’ is a compassionate look at those stuck in the unforgiving cycle of Britain’s benefit system.

‘Love’ is currently playing at Dorfman Theatre until 10th January 2016. Visit National Theatre’s website for more information and tickets.