Having undergone a major refurbishment to improve accessibility, The Donmar Warehouse has reopened to the public for the first time since March 2020 with Love And Other Acts of Violence, a piece of new writing by Cordelia Lynn, directed by Elayce Ismail.
It’s perhaps a gamble for the Donmar to return with a previously unseen play, forfeiting their tried and tested productions of the past to explore something new from Cordelia Lynn. Not that Lynn is inexperienced, prior to Lockdown Hedda Tesman enjoyed significant acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre, while a version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters ran almost concurrently at The Almeida.
For The Donmar’s reopening however, it’s not an adaptation from Lynn but an original piece. The main part of Love And Other Acts of Violence centres around the relationship of a couple referred to as only ‘Him’ (Tom Mothersdale) and ‘Her’ (Abigail Weinstock). As their relationship blossoms we appear to be in roughly the present day, but as the relationship continues over the next decade, there is clearly a developing political situation in the outside world that is affecting them personally.
This outside force is usually merely alluded to, and whether Lynn means it as a prediction, a warning, or neither, it seems believable enough. We can tell from Him and Her’s conversations that fascism has risen and that Jews and other minorities are being persecuted, more often than not by government policy.
What is less believable is the relationship itself. Because it is presented in short sharp snippets we never get to see any real feelings of love. Most of these brief scenes end in an argument between the pair, and the violence in this portion (mentioned in the title of course) feels out of place in the wider context.
The crux of the play is that trauma is carried down through the generations, not just by the victims but also by the perpetrators. An uncomfortable concept for sure, particularly as in Love And Other Acts of Violence the persecution of Jewish people in the early 20th Century by the Polish, is never far from events unfolding in Him and Her’s modern day world, where anti-Semitism has taken hold.
This main act is staged with uncanny similarity to The Donmar’s latest West End Transfer, Constellations. A barefoot couple alone on stage, brief snatches of conversations or events, separated by bursts of sound and light from Richard Hammarton and Joshua Pharo, means Love And Other Acts of Violence doesn’t feel quite like the new play it should.
There is however, an epilogue, which pulls us back to 1918 and Her’s ancestors. The stage is transformed in dramatic fashion, and for the first time there are props and other characters; Richard Katz joining us in a fantastic portrayal of Tatte. The collective creative team’s skills are on full display as violence comes to Lemberg, and the Jews who inhabit the town.
The staging of that final scene is more than impressive, and it helps to tie the story together, but it also highlights what’s been missing from the rest of the play. Love and Other Acts of Violence has important themes to explore, but they are too often lost in the over contrived main act.
Love And Other Acts of Violence is currently booking at The Donmar Warehouse until 27th November 2021.