Christopher Reid’s late wife was an actress, so it seems like a fitting tribute that two of his poems, including one partly penned by his spouse, should be presented on the stage. Love, Loss & Chianti currently at The Riverside Studios and directed by Jason Morell, is comprised of two separate poems, which seem to have little in common at first glance, but the real link between them is beautifully poignant.
First comes ‘A Scattering,’ a poem in four acts which charts Lucinda Gane’s (Reid’s wife) illness and death from a brain tumour. The first act comes from Lucinda’s point of view, while the subsequent three, written after her death, looks back at her treatment and finally tries to find a way of adequately saying goodbye.
It is of course heartbreaking to listen to, but the story is told with a great deal of positivity; the time in the hospice is filled with “friends and food” and stories about picnics with meals bought from local delicatessens. It also serves as a celebration of life, focussing very little on death and instead choosing to talk about holidays in Crete or the precious time the couple spent together.
‘The Song Of Lunch’ was presented on its own at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2018, and Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson return to reprise their roles here. Reid says that he began writing the piece the day after he finished ‘A Scattering’, so it makes sense that this one is presented to us immediately after the interval.
The second poem is more of a comedic farce, although it does take a darker twist towards the end. Two old flames reunite for a lunch at what had been their favourite restaurant, they discover that it isn’t just the menu that has changed, and while Bathurst’s character remains stuck in the past, Johnson’s has moved on.
Both pieces in Love, Loss & Chianti are accompanied by exquisite projected animations from Charles Peattie. These not only help to set the scene on an otherwise sparse stage, but also succeed in flowing at the same pace as the poems, and work hand in hand with Colin Grenfell’s lighting design, so sights and the prose complement each other perfectly. We would have to assume the animations for ‘The Song Of Lunch’ were done first (it’s the same as they had in Edinburgh) but there are common themes, such as concentric circles, repeated in the ‘A Scattering’ scenes.
Reid’s poetry is in itself very special, there’s a wonderful rhythm in the prose that lends itself perfectly to being read aloud. But Bathurst and Johnson aren’t merely reciting this poetry, they are acting it out at the same time, and that’s no mean feat, though both succeed admirably. The poetry is also very easy to understand, requiring very little thought from the audience, who can instead just sit back and allow these vivid words to wash over them in waves.
The poetry of Love, Loss & Chianti is the real winner here, but it’s brought to life in two excellent performances from Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson, while the animations and staging bring a third dimension to a piece of theatre which is utterly soothing for the soul.