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A CurtainUp London London Review
Let There Be Love

You think it's fair to come into the country taking work from young people?— Alfred
Let There Be Love
Lydia Leonard as Maria and Joseph Marcell as Alfred
(Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Kwame Kwei-Armah was the first Black British playwright to be produced in the West End proper when his play Elmina's Kitchen transferred from the National Theatre to the Garrick. His latest work, Let There Be Love, the title taken from a Nat King Cole song, gets a second showing at the Tricycle after its premiere early this year was so well thought of.

This play is based around Alfred (Joseph Marcell), a pensioner from Grenada in the Caribbean who has been asked to leave his daughter's house. The relationship is between Alfred and his newly recruited, Polish employee, home help Maria (Lydia Leonard). This unlikely pair contrast in terms of sex and age and race and outlook but find some common ground in that they have both come to England to search for a new life. Alfred arrived as an immigrant in the 1960s and Maria comes almost fifty years later from Eastern Europe. Much of the play is discovering what they have in common and what has changed. Alfred having brought up his daughters after his wife left him, decides to induct Maria into what it is to be British.

Alfred opens the play as a thoroughly cantankerous, difficult and dislikeable old man. His younger daughter Gemma (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) has accompanied him back to his home from hospital after his other daughter could not take any more of his verbally abusive and inconsiderate behaviour, and asked him to leave her house. Gemma is almost estranged from her father because her male partner has left her after discovering she has had some Lesbian flings.

Alfred is full of prejudice. He voices his unpleasant opinions loudly with no thought as to who he might offend. He calls his mixed race grandson a "halfbreed", he curses Indian doctors and he torments Gemma with cruel jibes. He is sent a gem of a cleaner, the delightful Maria who listens to him patiently and sympathetically. She treks to Shepherd's Bush to tempt his failing appetite with genuine Caribbean delicacies and fresh green coconuts. She takes him to her shopping heavens of Brent Cross and IKEA. When Maria has boyfriend problems with Tomas playing around with other women, Alfred offers her a room in his house. This is much to the chagrin of Gemma, who feels that as his daughter she should have been able to move into her father's house when she had asked for his help. We all have seen the elderly favouring those who look after them rather than their relatives. When it becomes apparent that Alfred does not have long to live, it is Maria who helps him find redemption and forgiveness as well as caring for him. Maria takes care of Alfred's precious wood mounted gramophone which he remembers buying in 1963 and together they listen to old songs like those of Nat King Cole.

Kwame has described the play as a tribute to his mother from Grenada who died of cancer some years ago. He was born Ian Roberts and took the name Kwame after tracing his African roots and wanting an African name rather than that of Roberts, a slave owner. His play may be sentimental but it is beautifully described with many moments of sheer comedy. Of course some of the comedy is derived from the incongruity of parallel stories of their experiences as newly arrived immigrants, the muggers who were after Maria's phone whom Alfred presumes are black — they are not. Alfred assumes that there is no rivalry between those from Czechoslovakia and Poland, and relates Maria's distaste to when people called him a Jamaican, thinking Grenadians to be no different.

The performances are very good. Joseph Marcell is bombastic and bigoted in the early scenes and has to become a nicer man as his death approaches. The sensational Lydia Leonard as Maria has a wonderful accent with that open delivery of one not being ashamed to voice what she really believes is right. She seems too good to be true but she actually is that good and generous natured. Never does Maria seem to be mercenary or grasping or even competitive, except when she is talking about the pictures of Tomas' other woman she found on his phone, when she, uncharacteristically but very amusingly, lets rip! Sharon Duncan-Brewster is the alienated daughter in a part brimming with realism and anger who also has a journey to make.

Helen Goddard's set conveys the scruffy, out of date living room with patterned wallpaper, an ugly old sofa, swirling patterns on the carpet and of course pride of place going to the gramophone cabinet. Kwame himself directed this play with the talented choreographer Jason Pennycooke helping Alfred recreate some of the moves he was famous for in the dance halls in his youth.

I like Kwame's writing, his naturalism and gentle comedy, While Let There Be Love deals with issues of old age that do not make newspaper headlines, this poignant, personal and nicely acted play is well worth the journey to Kilburn. For a review of his Elmina's Kitchen go here.

Let There Be Love
Written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah

Starring: Joseph Marcell, Lydia Leonard, Sharon Duncan Brewster
Design: Helen Goddard
Lighting: Rachael McCutcheon
Sound: Neil Alexander
Choreographer: Jason Pennycooke
Running time: Two hours with one interval
Box Office: 020 7328 1000
Booking to 30th August 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th August 2008 performance at the Tricyle, Kilburn High Road, London NW6 (Tube: Kilburn)
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