LOVE AND OTHER ACTS OF VIOLENCE by Cordelia Lynn ; Directed by Elayce Ismail ; Set Design by Basia Bińkowska ; Lighting Design by Joshua Pharo ; Movement, Fight and Intimacy Director: Yarit Dor ; Sound Design by Richard Hammarton ; Casting Director: Anna Cooper CDG for the Donmar Warehouse ; Production Photographer: Helen Murray Donmar Warehouse ; London, UK ; 7th October 2021 ; Credit and copyright: Helen Murray

Love and Other Acts of Violence

Reviewer's rating

The newly refurbished and upgraded Donmar Warehouse reopened its doors with Love and Other Acts of Violence by Cordelia Lynn. True to the title, it starts with love and ends with violence. No, this is not a spoiler to an astounding production of a captivating play.

Fictional drama represents life’s dramatic situations. Lynn’s play superbly fuses them by devising two dramatic narratives, set in different periods and locations. These narratives, akin to a prelude and epilogue, are symbiotically connected.

The opening has youth, attraction, and humour. It is a two-hander, no names merely ‘Her’, superbly performed by Abigail Weinstock and ‘Him’ splendidly acted by Tom Mothersdale.

These are virtuoso performances offering the audience more than a glimpse into an episode of courtship. The encounter that leads to falling in love and being in love is also a tapestry of the socio-political realities. ‘Him’ is a left-wing socialist, whose mother is a cleaner from Warsaw with grandparents from Lemberg (Poland), what is today, L’viv (Ukraine). ‘Her’ is a young Jewish physicist, whose grandma came to England from Lemberg.

There is a strong sense of social unrest in both parts of the play. In the first part, the extreme right (BNP?) clashes with the extreme left in England. ‘Him’ is a very active member of the Left trying to instil in ‘Her’ the importance of demonstrations “If more people protested, then more of your people would have survived”, ‘Him’ says to ‘Her’.

There are casualties to obsessively held ideologies. Horrifyingly, a real-life reminder took place only last Friday when a 25-year-old man, holding extremist Islamic views, senselessly stabbed Sir David Amess MP to death.

‘Him’, who holds extreme socialist views, admits to ‘Her’, that he had possibly killed someone in the last demonstration. That does it for her.  ‘Him’ cannot come with ‘Her’ to where she goes. That becomes clearer in the play’s epilogue where the audience is dramatically transported to Lemberg during the November 1918 pogrom. Polish nationalists viciously attacked the local Jews. The harrowing events unfold with no sentimentality. Tatte, well performed, by Richard Katz, with the brief appearance of his two young sons, performed by Daniel Lawson and the amusing Charlie Tumbridge, drive home the magnitude of the violence inflicted on the Jews.  Tom Mothersdale, acting in this part of the Polish nationalist, is an obvious statement that all extreme ideologies are imbedded in intolerance and violence. Abigail Weinstock’s performance as the ‘Baba” with the final prayer in Hebrew, leave the audience dumbstruck. It is so powerful that the mind momentarily freezes with awe.

Elayce Ismail’s direction and Barisa Biñkowska’s imaginative set design, make this production utterly engaging.  An empty elevated wooden floor, with an exact mirroring wooden ceiling, is the space in which there is a fresh start of a new love between ‘Her’ and ‘Him’. Their emotions, ideas, and relationship are sufficient to fill the empty space. A series of scenes, represent time capsules, focusing on brief and dramatic moments in which the characters’ ideologies and feelings are explored and exposed. The scenes are marked by precision blackouts and lighting, executed by Joshua Pharo, generating a further undercurrent of suspense. In the second half, the ceiling drops, and it is the floor of the Jewish home in Lemberg, as if it is the hidden subconscious that is always present.