Love Story Hannah Taylor

“If music be the food of love, play on!”

As spoken in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the same can be echoed in response to this beautiful rendition of Segal’s novella, Love Story. A tragic romance with melodies interwoven throughout, this musical performance does credit to Clark’s and Goodall’s chamber musical in the confined space of the Corpus Playroom.

The music of this play forms the quintessential element of beauty in its love story, enacting through song the impetuosity of youth, the joys of first love, the anguish of loss, and the pain of death. Very well-arranged, well-timed, and outstandingly performed by four extremely talented musicians, the live ‘soundtrack’ to the play was still resounding in my ears, long after I got home from the theatre. Michael Cullen’s phenomenal piano playing was a truly inspirational performance, which formed the basis of the play’s story-telling through sound.

“Michael Cullen’s phenomenal piano playing was a truly inspirational performance”

In the true fashion of a musical, the songs were used for a large amount of story-telling, and this was excellently achieved with a great selection of voices among cast members. The two lead singers, Martha Cook and Joe Pieri, were fantastic not only in song but also in their ability to slide seamlessly from song into speech. They managed the American accent well – though at times this was a little unconvincing – and captured the essence of Segal’s original novella in the humorous, witty and blunt language of the characters. Far from being the idealised Latinate diction of elevated romance, the down-to-earth realism of Segal’s popular prose portrayed and delivered well by the actors. The realism and wit furthered the comedic strands of the plot, detracting from its overarching tragic structure and offering many an opportunity for laughter and amusement from the audience.

The piece featured a great cast of actors, with the chorus all multi-roling to offer additional parts seamlessly, and the use of costume was very adept and to be admired. With the base of all-black clothing, character shift and distinguishing of individual parts – such as parents or spectators at a match – was all done through simple costume additions, such as hats and coats. This was very effective, and Lisa Bernhardt’s creativity is to be applauded.

The set was also well constructed and managed. Within the limits of the stage layout, simple building blocks and chairs were effectively used and props became essential to depicting details. However, it must be said that a bizarre, stray Strongbow can was a little unexplained in its significance. My favourite use of props had to be that in the repeated pasta-cooking scenes, reinforcing Jennifer’s Italian origins, as well as offering a representation of the domestic realm and ‘naturalness’ of this love story that paralleled Segal’s realism and sense of universality in his original novella.

Although straying from the original novella in pre-warning the audience of Jennifer’s pending death, the drama retained its tragic element. However, for me, the sense of despair and heart-wrenching sorrow, gained through unexpected and unanticipated ‘sudden’ death, was lost a little. Nonetheless, the scenes surrounding death and illness were well staged and acted, evoking sadness and appealing to the audience’s emotions.

The use of music worked well to enhance this emotional response to the play and the final choral refrain of the opening song: ‘What can you say about a 25-year old girl who died?’ beautifully wrapped up the performance, tying together its strands of tragedy, comedy of language, realism, parental struggle, father-son relationships, law, financial strains, and – of course – music.