Midway upon the journey of our life/I found myself within a forest dark/For the straightforward pathway had been lost, runs the famous opening of Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. Tanika Gupta’s “Love N Stuff” begins with its own mid-life crisis as 53 year old Mansoor, seemingly dissatisfied with the life he has made for himself in the UK, decamps to a suitably hellish Heathrow Airport on the way back to his native India. Sadly his plane is delayed, allowing his wife Bindi to catch up with him and give him a well-deserved slap across the chops for saying goodbye via a note on the kitchen table.
In these two characters we have already met all the actors in the show, as Nicholas Khan and Rina Fatania play not only Mansoor and Bindi but many other characters in the course of 90 uninterrupted minutes. Some of these are only momentarily passing through their space, such as the laddish Jack who can’t grasp Bindi’s name, eventually deciding it must be Linda, and the posh Dad apologising for his children’s behaviour – unfortunately some of their friends live in social housing, so what can one expect? Others, like lodgers Farooq and Janet, determined to make sure Mansoor doesn’t get on the plane, crop up all the way through. The transitions are often slick, Khan in particular having a great knack for leaving as one character and instantly coming back on as another. He is newer to the production but seems a subtler actor than Fatania, whose comedic style is “Dinnerladies” verging on panto, wringing every possible drop of humour (and then some) from the regional accents of her characters.
The problem is that once you’ve grasped the USP of the show – two actors playing 19 characters – it needs to stand on its own two feet as a play, and it’s really more like a series of broad sketches, each one elbowing the previous act off the stage to replace it with something drearily similar. To see a middle aged woman play a male urban “yoof” is initially funny, but there are bound to be diminishing returns when you’re seeing it for the fifth or sixth time.
And yet, and yet… just when I thought there was no avoiding two stars, Gupta and director Kerry Michael give us an unexpectedly moving coda, the details of which I won’t reveal except to say that it allows the actors simply to act without gimmicks, which they turn out to be rather good at. Michael’s projection-based design also comes into its own in this section. If only the whole show had been like this.