No Love Songs
Rating: ★★★ ½
Venue: Southwark Playhouse Elephant
Cast: Anna Russell Martin and John McLarnon

Inspired by the real-life experiences of Kyle Falconer (from Scottish indie-rock sensation The View) and Laura Wilde, this powerful story follows two new parents grappling with the challenges of parenthood. Songs taken from Kyle’s hit second solo album are reimagined live on stage, and through a sublime blend of music and storytelling, the audience is taken on a heartfelt journey through tears and laughter as the young couple navigate the ups and downs of their new life together.

There are two ways to look at this show, as what it was said to be, and what it was.

The description of the show in marketing materials paints it as a wholesome depiction of brand-new parenthood, with it’s ups and downs, all set to the music of The View’s vocalist Kyle Falconer’s second solo album No Love Songs for Laura. From the description, I was anticipating a heartfelt exploration of the good, the bad and the ugly of adjusting to parenthood through a young couple’s journey.

In reality, the show focuses 80% of its run time on the heart-breaking downwards spiral of new mum Lana as she has to face motherhood alone while her partner is away on tour, and how the weight of it all materialises as severe postpartum depression. There was no mention of this in any of the promotional materials for the show.

Despite the brilliant performance delivered by Anna Russell Martin, the show leaves a bitter aftertaste, not because of the subject, but because of how the production seems to shy away from its own darkness, from the raw emotion fuelling it. If we look at a show like Next to Normal (which will be arriving in the West End later this month), it deals with equally dark themes, but it doesn’t hide from the discomfort of it. I am left very disappointed by how its being presented, because the material can stay the same, but the marketing does it no justice and feels disingenuous for the sake of appealing to a wider audience. In some ways, this decision feels like a symptom of severe lack of trust in the material, which in my opinion is unfounded.

This blunder left aside, let’s talk about what the show actually was: We are introduced to Jessie, a musician on a gig, and Lana, a fashion student new in town, who meet on a night out. Immediately after, we jump to nine months in the future, when Lana goes into labour and gives birth to a boy.

This first section of the show has a charming levity I wish we got more of in other points so we could really understand and get on board with the bond between Lana and Jessie. The opening number “Stress Ball”, though, is probably the weakest compared to the rest of the show. I thoroughly enjoyed the music, even if it did feel obvious that the story we were seeing was built the way it was to accommodate the existing album No Love Songs for Laura.

From this point on, we are invited to witness in an almost voyeuristic way how the cracks begin to appear, in Lana’s mental health, in the relationship of the couple and in Jessie’s sense of urgency to be with his family.

Something to highlight (pardon my pun) is the impeccable lighting design from Grant Anderson. Even if there was not a single line of dialogue, the way the lights are used could tell the story on its own. It perfectly underlined the moments of anguish and sweetened those of optimism and hope.

The star of the show is undoubtably Anna Russell Martin, her voice and the emotional intensity of her performance made those 75 minutes an incredible experience. John McLarnon, however, got a bit lost, and his performance didn’t really stir much until the final 20% of the show where we finally see more emotion coming form his character.

Recently we’ve seen one-act shows have a bit of a surge, and I’ll be the first one to celebrate this. Many shows work best when stripped to the essential, and it proposes a challenge for the creatives behind it that often produces amazing pieces you can watch and be home by 10. No Love Songs might be the exception. In its brevity, the resolution of the show feels rushed, and almost like things were fixed by magic. In this one case, I think the story would have benefitted from more time to resolve the conflict, to really give the pain, the darkness, room to dispel on its own.

This show is inspiring in its rawness, it is moving, and heartfelt, I just wish it didn’t feel like it’s apologising for being what it is.

You can book tickets to No Love Songs at Southwark Playhouse Elephant, here.

Review by Luma

**photo credit: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan**

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