OUT Of Love is a play about the lives of two childhood friends and their journey into adulthood.
It is painful to observe as well as being funny and absorbing throughout. Grace (Katie Elin-Salt) and Lorna (Sally Messham) laugh, share intimacies, cry and sometimes fight. Despite going their own ways the bonds they have created are unbreakable. It is as if they are stuck together – emotionally at least – with super glue.
The play, written by talented Elinor Cook, is set in the North East of England although it would be hard to guess. Apart from the odd references to shipyards and mines, it could be anywhere in the UK (Grace has a Welsh accent, Lorna’s is very much North East). The time period – 1983 to 2017 – is also hard to fathom out although occasional bits of music hint at a particular point in time. There is no mention of a Thatcher, Blair or a Cameron to help – nor for that matter wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Some of this detail, in the original script, was stripped out so that the focus of the play would be on the relationship between Grace and Lorna. It is all the better for it.
The result is pared back, sparse theatre. Engaging and enthralling, helped by superb performances from both Elin-Salt and Messham and jack of all trades Hasan Dixon (Dad, Mike, Charlie, Christopher, Uncle Tom Cobley and all).
There are no stage props to be distracted by. As a result, you are forced to imagine (visualise) everything beyond the verbal exchanges – for example, Lorna Dad’s coffin coming into the church – which draws you ever deeper into the relationship between the two girls. Most of the action take place in a circle whose circumference remains lit for most of the play.
It is the inter-changes between Grace and Lorna that shape everything. As a child and teenager, Grace is the more confident, abrasive and louder of the two. Lorna is quieter, a little bit of a dark horse. Grace controls Lorna, much to the consternation of Lorna’s stepdad Christopher. Yet as they get older, the dynamic changes as Grace gets pregnant (just before heading off to college).
While Lorna goes on to enjoy a successful career in publishing, having a string of lovers along the way, Grace is left to bring up her daughter on her own. Yet Lorna never forgets her girlfriend. It all culminates in a somewhat shattering end.
The play is a jigsaw with no chronological path. It jumps all over the place with Grace and Lorna one moment being teenagers talking about bloody periods, boys and sex – then being thrown forward to when Lorna is a successful assistant publishing editor – and then going back to childhood. There are deaths, suicides, cancer and boyfriends galore along the way.
It is clever, requires concentration but is ultimately fulfilling with an ending – involving the mothers of Grace and Lorna (played of course by Elin-Salt and Messham) – that gives the play a perfect symmetry. The circle of life.
Out of Love is about friendships and how our lives are often defined by key moments – an unexpected pregnancy, a chance meeting.
It is a play that gets you thinking. A play that has been as equally well received in economically challenged Stoke-on-Trent as it is being in London’s Richmond (Orange Tree Theatre, until March 3) where the pavements are awash with money.
Great writing from Cook. Adept direction by James Grieve and super acting from Elin-Salt, Messham and Dixon.
Who said men cannot multi-task? Dixon is living proof that they can. As for Elin-Salt and Messham, their transformation from kids one moment to adults the next is quite extraordinary.
Out of Love? I fell in love with it.
Katie Elin-Salt: Grace and Ruth
Sally Messham: Lorna and Penny
Hasan Dixon: George, Charlie, Leonard, Dad, Mike, Ted, Christopher and Sam
Elinor Cook: Writer
James Grieve: Director
Peter Small: Lighting
Dominic Kennedy: Sound