So, it’s the end of the world and we are all about to be blown to pieces in a thermo-nuclear war. How would you spend your last day?
It sounds like one of those frequently asked questions in women’s magazine quizzes but it’s also a scene in an engaging new play by hit writing partnership Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.
Love Me Do opened at Watford Palace Theatre last night and it’s good to see Marks and Gran return to the legitimate stage.
They sold their souls to the Devil when commissioned to write the jukebox musicals Dreamboats and Petticoats/ Miniskirts which, undoubtedly hugely popular, they probably knocked off in their sleep.
Love Me Do is a whole different ballgame. No jukebox musical this – there’s not even a few bars of the Beatles first hit Love Me Do.
The story is set in October 1962 when, if you are old enough to remember, the Soviet leader Khrushchev sited nuclear weapons in Cuba and American president Jack Kennedy declared it an act of war.
In one of the most fraught showdowns in history both sides threatened to send up their missiles which would have wiped out the planet.
Marks & Gran use Kennedy’s speech to the nation in the production and it’s one of the most terrifying orations I’ve ever heard. It sent chills down my spine.
But, on the home front, mom of three and home-maker Dorothy, from Kansas (and yes, there are plenty of jokes at her expense) has flown in from the USA to attend the wedding of an old college chum.
It’s a welcome relief for her and a chance to escape from the suffocation of her small town existence.
At the reception she meets tall, handsome, ex-pat Shack, or, to us his full name, Colonal Henry Shackleton. He’s something at the American Embassy and he’s very cagey about exactly what he does.
But it’s clear from the off that he’s smitten with Dorothy.
As the crisis deepens she’s desperate to return home to be with her kids but is stranded in England. Shack acts as her knight.
Glib, cocky, funny and attractive, there’s something about Shack that Dorothy understandably can’t shake.
Throughout the performance there is a background of rising tension, frequently dispelled by humour and a great, predominantly jazz, score.
Co-directors Brigid Larmour (WPT’s artistic director) and Shona Morris have created a wonderfully fluid piece of theatre which is stylised to the point where the action follows the beats of the background music.
What is more remarkable is that there is only a cast of five who move effortlessly about the simple set, swapping hats and locations to play dozens of supporting characters.
Sara Topham is initially very much a Dorothy. She admits to being “a bit of a hayseed” but she certainly finds her sea-legs, later looking a million dollars in a black cocktail dress and ready for seduction.
Robert Curtis, as Shack, is overloaded with charisma. He’s charming and disarming, juggling the demands of trying to save the world from a nuclear holocaust and persuading Dorothy to fall in love with him.
It’s a tough act but Curtis, channeling elements of James Bond, makes it look textbook.
Hugo Bolton, Rosie Holden and Peter Clements are almost a blur as they change characters with finesse.
At one point Bolton even becomes a revolving door while Clements’ clipped vowels make for a perfect BBC Radio announcer.
The story sparkles with frisson; the dialogue is intelligent, funny and, when it has to be, right on point politically; and this incredibly hard-working cast are splendid in every part they play.
After the performance Maurice Gran said that it had been their original intention to produce a screenplay but he feared they would die of old age waiting for it to be filmed.
It makes a much better play and a credit to the producing talent at Watford Palace Theatre.