Riverside Studios, London – until 17 May 2020
Love, Loss & Chianti brings together two collected works of poetry by Christopher Reid. First up is Scatterings, a collection he wrote after the death of his wife, which brings to life his grief in heartbreaking detail. While The Song of Lunch is a much more comic piece, written after Scatterings as an antidote to Reid’s grief, although a dark edge of abandonment and loss nonetheless creeps in.
While these two collections could have been brought to life as monologues delivered from the perspective of the two males protagonists (as written), the decision to cast both objects of affection is a smart one. Poetry collections can be tough to dramatise, and the chemistry between Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson really vitalises both pieces.
In Scatterings Bathurst gives a sensitive and naturalistic performance. There can be a temptation to over-play grief and I’m so grateful that that doesn’t happen here. We join him as he looks through his wife’s old possessions, and is transported into the memories of holidays, as well as shared moments in their home and garden. Johnson joins Bathurst on-stage, as the woman he pines for. She is full of life and shines in his memories, and Johnson sparkles as she plays this idealised version of his wife. Seeing these memories brought so vividly to life, provides such a stark contrast to the loneliness of an empty house and unshared life.
Following the interplay between Bathurst and Johnson, you get a powerful sense of how the husband has been changed and diminished by his loss. Reid perfectly captures how, when we mourn the person who is gone, we also mourn who we used to when they were alive. I found Scatterings extremely moving as it is so human and relatable. Small details reveal huge emotions. I thoroughly enjoyed the strength and simplicity of both performances. This story is brought to life against a backdrop of beautifully detailed animations. They are very skilfully done, and weave well with the unfolding story, but I was so caught up in the emotion of the piece, I didn’t really need them distracting me from my tears (I’m a crier).
Now for ‘The Song of Lunch’ the animations added more for me, in terms setting the scene and bringing the buzz of the restaurant to life. Bathurst has a lot of fun as the jilted ex, meeting up with his long lost, married, love in an Italian restaurant in London. Johnson positively glows as the woman who chose a very different, and very successful husband. As we are seeing her through the filtered eyes of her ex, she is all glamour and poise, as approachable as an exotic bird in the zoo. As this is the Chianti section of the evening, Bathurst’s journey through optimism, reproachfulness and drunkenness is great fun to watch, as whatever hopes he may have had, deflate through their on-going interactions. You get a wonderful echo of what they must have been like as a couple all those years before, and a good idea of why it didn’t work out.
Christopher Reid is such an evocative poet, using mundane details to convey universal human truths, with a disarming compassion, humour and honesty. ‘Love, Loss & Chianti’ is a wonderful introduction to his work, for those who are unfamiliar with it. For his fans, this production brings his words to glorious life, while demonstrating a clear love and respect for the source material. Director Jason Morell clearly understands that the power of both pieces sits very firmly on the shoulders of his two actors, so the production is designed to embrace and amplify Bathurst and Johnson’s resonant performances.