Ever since it was first performed by the author himself in 1988, A.R. Gurney’s celebrated play Love Letters has been a favourite among name actors. Exploring a relationship between two lifelong friends through their letters to each other, it requires little rehearsal and the lines don’t have to be memorised.
However this production which had its premiere performances at The Q in Queanbeyan before embarking on an extensive Australasian tour, and which stars Huw Higginson (PC George Garfield in The Bill) and Hannah Waterman (Laura Beale in Eastenders) shows all the signs of a meticulous rehearsal period by director Denny Lawrence and his cast.
Melissa Gardner (feisty, rebellious and determined to lead her own life) and Andy Ladd (compliant, thoughtful and co-operative) are childhood friends. Both born into wealthy New York families, they begin writing to each other with tentative holiday postcards, birthday invitations and ‘Thank you’ letters.
As they move on to boarding school, college and beyond, they stay in touch through a series of letters that explore their blossoming hopes for romance as well as their change in fortunes. Andy becomes a celebrated lawyer with political ambitions. Melissa leaves a trail of controversy and school expulsions, eventually becoming an artist.
Through 50 years of laughter, pain, re-unions and estrangements, the bond between the two remains unbreakable. As his life reaches for the glory of the U.S. Senate, hers descends into trouble and rejection.
The staging is simplicity itself. Both actors stand at elegant, transparent lecterns, separated by an arched window. Images of butterflies, leaves and rain are projected on to the window, together with subtle lighting changes to denote the passage of time.
The actors avoid eye contact with each other, and their faces light up only when speaking their own lines. In lesser actors, this static staging could become boring, but despite their television fame, both Waterman and Higginson are consummate stage actors boasting substantial stage credits between them.
Their performances are lessons in superb stagecraft and restraint, allowing their characters comes to life through A.R.Gurney’s exquisitely discerning words. In the process they are fascinating, frequently funny and ultimately very moving. Should this production come your way, do make an effort to catch it. You’ll be glad you did!
Director: Denny Lawrence Starring: Hanna Waterman and Huw Higginson Designer: Jacob Battista Lighting Design: Jason Bovaird Producer: Christine Harris & HIT Productions
The Q Theatre – Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, 253 Crawford Street, Queanbeyan
Performance: Wednesday 21 May 2014 – 8.00pm
Season: 21 – 24 May 2014
Love Letters is currently touring Australia until 28 June. For more information, visit the Hit Productions website for details.
Image: by Belinda Strodden – courtesy of HIT Productions
Review: Bill Stephens