Photos © Barry Parsons

Norwich is blessed with an usually rich variety of arts venues, and the Sewell Barn Theatre is a delightful small theatre space in a converted barn set in the midst of a still thriving school. Gifted to the City of Norwich by Philip Sewell, brother of noted Black Beauty author Anna Sewell this unlikely venue has hosted a lively theatrical company for forty years now since the first artistic director Henry Burke wrote and directed their first production “The Norfolk Furies” in 1980. Henry went on to drive the development of Norwich Playhouse, and was a formidable campaigner for artistic endeavours in Norwich who never accepted ‘no’ for an answer. I bear the scars of our encounters.

The current Sewell Barn Theatre Company have chosen a cracking work to relaunch their post-lockdown work, ‘Love, Love, Love’ by Mike Bartlett. Director Clare Williamson has cajoled her five strong cast into a memorable and moving delivery of this well written play.

We meet five members from one slightly dysfunctional family at three time points in their lives, in 1967, 1990 and 2011. The versatile cast members play their roles convincingly across this 44 year span, a notable achievement in itself.

The first act sees brothers Henry (working) and Kenneth (student) preparing for a visit from Henry’s new ‘bird’ Sandra in the shambolic and messy flat that Henry pays for and Kenneth is guesting in. Everything is rather pedestrian until Sandra arrives, a mini skirted monster of energy and attitude who promptly behaves badly and divides the brothers. She also reminds us forcefully that the 60s marked the start of a very long, and far too slow, emergence of women’s rights and confidence in the hitherto male dominated world.

Henry (Kevin Oelrichs) fades from the scene as Kenneth (Jonathan Redding) and Sandra (Ayshea Christian) noodle off to the beats of supergroup Cream. Look ‘em up kids.

Moving on 23 years Act 2 gives us a scene with a cringe factor at Abigail’s Party levels, with Kenneth and Sandra marginalising the concerns of their teenage kids Jamie (Jose Tarouca) and Rose (Emma Kirkham) as they pick apart their own marriage. The third Act reunites the four another 21 years later.

The poignancy of this work is its depiction of the different hopes and aspirations of the generations, and the hugely different opportunities presented to each generation. The middle class young of the 60s were given boundless new choices in life, love, work and sex, whereas their kids’ generation just seem to have every freedom curtailed by an unholy cabal of society, family and money pressures.

While the writer Mike Bartlett has done a good job reflecting some of the changes in social mores over the period depicted I cannot resist the feeling that his viewpoint is irredeemably male. He gives the two female characters in the play, Sandra and her daughter Rose, the real heavy lifting in this play, and Ayshea and Emma rise to the challenge. Sandra has to be pretty, flirty, self obsessed, arrogant and over confident throughout the three acts, while showing a fair disdain for the traditional caring role of a mother. Rose on the other hand is first expected to be a bratty 15 year old teenager having a coming of age birthday ruined, while in Act 3 she is a late thirties London loser in life, confronting her parents for their lack of firm guidance. The scenes between the two are the high point of this production, albeit sometimes unbearable.

The audience for tonight’s show were like me people who can remember the 60s, a bit, because we were there. I can’t help thinking that this would be a great play to take to a school setting, as it tries to explain just how badly our generation has stuffed theirs now.

There is nothing to criticise in the lively performances of all five cast members, the only disconcerting thing is that they are expected to show the same characters over a 44 year spread and this takes a little suspension of disbelief, but this cast achieves that magnificently.

If you get a chance to see this play I unhesitatingly recommend that you do. Well written, brilliantly acted and staged and proof that the Sewell Barn Theatre company are back with a winner.

Love, Love, Love will be performed at the Sewell Barn Theatre, Constitution Hill, Norwich NR3 4BB from Thursday 14 October to Saturday 23 July 2021. Tickets are available online at £10 and £11 from TicketSource via, also by phone via 0333 6663366. Booking fees no longer apply.

© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, October 2021