Arts > Saving the best for last

15 December 2016 | by Mark Lawson

Saving the best for last


As Christmas approaches, a heavily pregnant woman seeks decent accommodation, but is forced to make do with rough, public, temporary shelter. This familiar scenario is transformed in the National Theatre’s extraordinary seasonal offering.

In Alexander Zeldin’s Love, the mum-to-be has been displaced by government welfare and housing cuts rather than a Roman census. Unable to pay rent suddenly doubled, Emma and partner Dean land in late-December in a council hostel, expecting to spend a few days “transiting” to a council house, but join other residents, including angry Colin and his elderly mother, who have been waiting a year.

This is terrifying below-the-holes-in-the-state-safety-net: in acting of extraordinary hyperrealism, racist thoughts and fears of paedophilia sneak between the enclosed strangers in glances between moments of seemingly authentic weeping and even incontinence.

There is only one reference to the better-known Nativity – Colin’s daughter is rehearsing as an angel for her school play – but the 90-minute nightmare is deeply serious about the duties of charity and care, both private and public. I have never heard the line “I love you” spoken in such bleak, but oddly redemptive, circumstances.


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