11 December 2014
First Love at the Arcola Theatre was strangely charming, and funny
The play had been on my interested list since it was first announced but, as is often the case, the problem was finding a free evening to go and see it.
I had arranged to be in London that day for no specific reason and when my evening was still free at lunchtime I went online and booked a ticket. Given the late hour I considered myself lucky to get a seat in the front row even if it was a little off to one side.
The weather was kind too and the rain that the Met Office said was due stayed away and that allowed me to walk the four kilometres or so to the Arcola. I had walked there before and now I had an additional incentive to do so with the iPhone counting my steps for me. I had plenty of time so I took a slightly obscure route to see some new things and to log some additional steps.
I got there in good time for a coffee and a sandwich of some sort, I'm fairly certain that it had humus in it, and to rest from my gentle walk before the play. I also had time to grab a beef to take in with me. Things were changing at the Arcola and my usual London Fields Red was not available as they were changing their supplier but they did have some London Fields Porter so I had one of those, mainly because it came in a decent sized bottle.
I headed for my seat (A4, a bargain at £18.00) and settled down for the one-man one-act show.
All that I knew about First Love was that it was taken from a short story by Samuel Beckett, and that was easily enough for me. Being a story it was narrated to us with the actor, Conor Lovett, adding expressions, gestures and movement.
The person subject to the First Love was an unusual man, a social outcast with autistic symptoms. He was living with his father and staying in his bedroom all day. When his father died the rest of the family took the opportunity of him going to the outside toilet to lock him out of the house with his few possessions. The story was narrated in the first person so it was through his unfamiliar viewpoint that we heard the story, much as in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The other play that came to mind was Elling in which two friends with what now call Learning Difficulties (not a very good name but it will do) tried to get on in the real world. In both cases out sympathies were with the story-teller and that story was one of charm and warmth.
The story of First Love was just that, how the narrator came to meet and end up living with a woman. It was a slow relationship due to the narrator's extreme reluctance to be with other people and even though not a lot happened it took almost an hour and a half to tell the story.
Two things gave the story its pleasing length, the extreme detail that the narrator went in to and the hesitant way that he told it, hence the suggestion that he had autism. To give an example of the superb delivery, at one point Conor was silent for almost two minutes while his character was trying to work out what to say and it was a dramatic two minutes - excellent theatre without words or actions, just expressions.
First Love was a remarkable, powerful and entertaining drama. The Arcola does that. Often.