Falling in Love Again
King’s Head Theatre
Reviewed – 16th January 2020
“at times feels more like two characters reeling off their Wikipedia pages at one another for all the dramatic sinew it possesses”
Falling in Love Again achieves an impressive feat of time travel, as the supposedly more-or-less real time 70 minute play spans six hours. The more unfortunate bout of time travel is that this limp, one-note treatment of an immensely lucrative concept also feels about six hours long.
Set the night before Kind Edward VIII’s abdication, we’re taken on a journey of ‘speculative history’ by playwright Ron Elisha, who envisions what might have happened if the King of England (Ashton Spear) was visited by the then Queen of Hollywood, Marlene Dietrich (Ramona von Pusch). This is based in fact, as Dietrich did actually try to visit Edward that night, but was turned away, and so the thought of what could have transpired had they genuinely met is a tantalising one, in which Falling in Love Again tries to explore the impasses between love, duty, identity, and power.
Alas, ‘tries’ is the operative word in the above sentence, as the script totally lacks nuance. It’s never really clear what Dietrich’s motive for her visit is – she repeatedly tells Edward not to abdicate but doesn’t put forth any meaningful arguments, while also trying to seduce him at every turn for reasons that, again, aren’t clear. Edward, meanwhile, is determined to abdicate because of his love for Wallis, who he wouldn’t be allowed to marry while part of the monarchy, although the strength of his love is undermined by the fact that he’s consistently tempted by Dietrich’s advances. In the wake of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure from the royal family, Edward’s situation could’ve drawn provocative and poignant parallels but the script is instead confused and thematically bereft. Tonally bereft too, as it offers almost no tension, and very few laughs – it at times feels more like two characters reeling off their Wikipedia pages at one another for all the dramatic sinew it possesses.
However, Elisha’s script clearly has a lot of heart, which is more than can be said for Tama Matheson’s lifeless direction. There is a moment early on where Dietrich does something suggestive, then Edward stammers a bit and spouts some vaguely charming retort. This same beat is repeated over and over with no escalation and no sense of stakes for the entire play, giving the performance the sense that it’s deeply under-rehearsed, or that there was no attempt to mine the subtext of the script or develop some sort of forward-moving energy between the two actors. The newspaper-clad set suggests a man at odds with his identity, but Spear seems to struggle with the dichotomy of a man who we’re constantly told is a womaniser being at odds with his royal position and the love he feels for Wallis, and subsequently much of his delivery doesn’t ring true. On the other hand, von Pusch’s physical performance is dynamic, but it constantly feels like watching an impression rather than an embodiment of a character. The pair find a couple of sweet moments – an impromptu game of golf is a highlight – but they are desperately sparse.
Falling in Love Again takes a fascinating concept and produces meandaring, flat, shallow results. With a more developed script and deeper direction, it has real potential; until then, it’s excruciating.
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle
Photography by Phil Swallow
Falling in Love Again
King’s Head Theatre until 8th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: