Love, Loss & Chianti
Reviewed – 28th February 2020
“Director Jason Morell gives the staging a rhythmic, choreographed feel”
The poet, Christopher Reid, has always been surprised at his own success. To top that, he has even said that his Costa Book of the Year Award for “A Scattering” came with ‘an element of almost grief. Of ruefulness that winning was borne of what was the worst tragedy in my life’. This poem, succeeded by “The Song of Lunch” comprise the two acts of “Love, Loss & Chianti” which bring them both to heart-breaking and heart-warming life in two magnificent performances from Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson. Both poems are quite different in style but they both share the same theatricality that makes the journey from page to stage inevitable.
“A Scattering” is Reid’s elegiac poem written for his wife, the actress Lucinda Gane, who died of cancer. It sounds morbid, but it is beautifully expressed. The opening lines an evocative description of a deathbed vigil; uncomfortable and brutally honest. “Sparse breath, then none. And it was done.” Bathurst’s delivery is at once colloquial and emotional; filled with humility but positivity too and, at times, touches of comedy. Starting with their final holiday together in Crete filled with sunshine and the knowledge that this is the last, it journeys through the subsequent death, loss and process of grief. The decision not to present this as a one hander is inspired, and Johnson adds a poignant dimension not just as the late wife but also stealing lines from the poet’s consciousness and claiming them back as her own. The terrible moments of morphine-induced ravings are chilling. Director Jason Morell gives the staging a rhythmic, choreographed feel which has the actors coursing the stage, separating and coming together again like dying swans.
Reid started writing “The Song of Lunch” the morning after “A Scattering” was finished. As an antidote it has the feel of a light farce and although probably equal in length it feels much shorter than the first act. There are moments of pure comedic genius interspersed with sharp observations. Reid is describing an ill-fated reunion with an old flame in a Soho Italian restaurant that fails to live up to the expectations of his wistful yearning for better days. Bathurst is a book editor and failed author while Johnson is his former lover who left him to marry a successful novelist fifteen years before. There is a touch of Jeffrey Bernard in Bathurst’s performance – echoes of his immersive production in the Coach and Horses last year – which highlights the strands of sadness beneath the string of witticisms and wine fuelled slips of the tongue.
Two contrasting pieces, but united with meticulous care by the creators. Charles Peattie’s animated projections tastefully complement the spoken words, paying homage to the silhouette animation of Lotte Reiniger, especially in “The Song of Lunch”. The evening is as far from a poetry recital as is possible. Reid’s poetry is vivid and theatrical, and Bathurst is clearly relishing the role of bringing them to a wider audience. When he first told people he was doing a poetry show, they said “Oh really?”. Being exposed to verse is often an off-putting prospect. Bathurst has turned that on its head and clearly demonstrated that Christopher Reid need not be be surprised at his own success. Judging by the reaction to “Love, Loss & Chianti”, nobody else is. Any reservations are soon dispelled, and you will watch wide-eyed, if not always dry-eyed.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Alex Harvey-Brown
Love, Loss & Chianti
Riverside Studios until 17th May
Previously reviewed at this venue: