Love Letters, The Q

23 May

I’ll admit it: I don’t know a lot about Queanbeyan, and – while it’s an unusual position to take – it’s for that reason I’ve got no real justification to bag it, or defend it. I do have to admit that Queanbeyan has some things that Canberra doesn’t have. Not always, but sometimes.

Some (a lot) of the performances at The Q – Queanbeyan’s Performing Arts Centre – fall into this category. Touring shows seem to often make it as far as Queanbeyan but skip Canberra; and I can see why some performances choose to just head to one of our two cities, not both (we’re rather close to one another, after all).

Love Letters – starring real life partners Huw Higginson (yes, you read right, that’s PC Garfield from The Bill!) and Hannah Waterman (Eastenders) – is a small production, and while Canberra has a number of smaller performance spaces of suitable size, The Q seems seems to suit it perfectly fine.

For those who haven’t been, The Q is a big building which looks like it has a number of spaces for theatre and exhibitions, with a few entrances. There’s a large void – perfect for milling – near the kiosk, and this void is replicated at least in the female bathroom (another place of congregation and chatter!). The kiosk is efficient and well-priced: $6 champagnes, and $2.50 ice cream (Dixie cups!), as well as maltesers and chocolate bars. (Apart from bottled water, no food or drink is allowed inside.)

Being the keen bean I am, we purchased tickets some weeks ago, so are smack bang in the middle of the second row from the stage, the two seats between the only three other people sitting in the row.

The stage is set with a windowed arch, flanked by clear (plastic? glass?) lecterns. There are just the two stars to this play, who stride out, open books on the lecterns and begin to read letters written to each other over 50 years, throughout the heart of the 20th Century, starting as American school-kids. They don’t move from the lecterns. Throughout, their hands are largely clasped in front of their bodies. They don’t look at each other.

That might sound a little boring. Yes, the premise of the play is that there’s no real need to rehearse it; it can simply be read. And, it should come naturally to real-life partners. (It does.)

The beauty of this play is through how much is left unsaid between the correspondence, how much can be conveyed when there’s no response to a letter, and when there’s a frenzied response, and most importantly what changes when they meet (rarely) between letters. Higginson plays the role of stoic Andy Ladd III, who as a schoolboy chases the affections of his wealthy classmate Melissa Gardner (Waterman) through letter writing – though she hates writing. They’re each sent to separate boarding schools and, throughout their correspondence, maintain enduring affection–sometimes polite and subtle, sometimes obvious and arrogant–for each other despite distractions and betrayals with other figures. Letters ask for help and advice; seeking the opinion of the other is a regular theme throughout, showing that even though they don’t see each other regularly, they care deeply about what the other thinks. The periods when one won’t reply to the other are usually purposeful punishments. The one real lighting effect is different colours displayed on the window arch; they change as the protagonists’ lives change seasons.

These first 10 years or so takes up the first 45 minutes of the play before the interval. It paradoxically feels a little slow, but is over quickly.

The second half roars by in comparison, fitting in the other 40 years. Andy and Melissa’s lives take them further apart, and they continue to crash in and out of touch. The periods when one doesn’t reply to the other comprises some periods of punishment, but also periods where life simply gets in the way – focusing on career advancement, maybe, or dealing with demons. What strikes me is the constant mismatch in communication needs: how often one would write in a frenzied, passionate way and the response would be met with less urgency, or less passion or length. As their lives are built and stretched, they both rely on news funneled from their parents on what the other is doing.

If I sound really enamoured with this play, I am. As a boarding school kid and one who maintains friendships – some very close, some less – over many years and distances, I empathised with so much of this. Despite being set in an era before e-mail and social media, the themes, actions and attitudes ring true.

The charting of their adult lives, as Melissa seeks both inspiration and something solid while working as an artist, and Andy works through the navy, Harvard Law and then the Senate, is compelling, but this is thanks to the actors. It’s a strong story line, but with few props, barely a backdrop and no movement, the effort required to really bring it to life, especially playing humans who change over the course of their lives, is huge. While Higginson and Waterman could easily read what’s in front of them, they know it all almost off by heart; the near constant eye contact with the audience builds a rapport which is crucial in making the climax and resolution feel genuine; absent of melodrama, and avoiding a maudlin trap.

There are a few distractions: the lecterns have small ledges on which water glasses are placed, and they’re clearly difficult to get in out, especially without making a big clinking sound. It’s also a little odd to have two quintessential English actors with New England accents… but they do a decent job!

This is a play beautiful in its simplicity, which its talented stars clearly deeply understand–and they bring it to life.

Date: Thursday, 22 May 2014

Where: The Q, Crawford Street, Queanbeyan

Cost: $55 per person ($47 for a matinee)

Value for money: High

Worthwhile factor: Very high

Want more? There are three more performances at Queanbeyan: 8pm Friday, 2pm Saturday, and 8pm Saturday. Other dates/places are here.

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2 Responses to “Love Letters, The Q”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Coming Up in 2014 #4 | In The Taratory - July 2, 2014

    […] extraordinary production of Love Letters at Queanbeyan’s performing arts centre, The […]

  2. The Burning, The Q | In The Taratory - August 1, 2014

    […] enjoyed high quality theatre at The Q (in Queanbeyan, if you haven’t guessed) earlier this year, I didn’t have to think twice about purchasing tickets to The Burning – ironically, a […]

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