Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)
13 October 2020 (released)
14 October 2020
The launch night of a new play is always an exciting event but never more so than last night. At Theatre Royal Windsor, the stage came to life once more before a hushed audience of drama lovers after the longest ever hiatus of darkness.
Co-directors, Anne-Marie and Jon Woodley, worked tirelessly with their attentive team to ensure the experience was as safe as possible for attendees. We all wore face coverings; we were given different entry times and locations depending on our seat allocations and some seating was cordoned off to keep us apart from other households. We enjoyed the luxury of bar orders brought to us in our seats to minimise our traffic through the theatre. Despite these measures, the theatre was as full as it could be.
Rarely seen before, the theatre’s Executive Producer, Bill Kenwright, took to the stage before the performance to express an emotional gratitude for the staff who had made this launch night possible and for the audience who bravely came out, to once again enjoy a live performance. His personal and heart-warming speech set the mood for the evening ahead. No matter what precautions we take, being in a public indoor space carries some risk but we each have to make our own decision about whether it is worth it. The invaluable sense of community and connection that local theatre gives us was palpable last night. Just being there was an event in itself but let me get on to talking about the play itself.
Love Letters was the perfect choice to re-open in this of all years. It’s a paired back play about a decades long relationship between mid-twentieth century Americans; Andrew and Melissa. The performance is delivered in the form of letters between them. It requires few props and just two actors. In this case, the spotlight homed in on the safe heads of experienced Windsor favourites; Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove.
The focus is entirely on the power of the human voice presenting the written words spoken aloud. As with all opening nights, there were inevitably a few little hitches, moments when the performers stumbled with their words – made all the more noticeable by the spare-ness of this piece. However, these two capable veterans of the stage swiftly brought things back on track, keeping us captivated until the emotional denouement and the final curtain fall. The sense of how exchanging letters gave them a lasting and deepening connection with each other felt so relatable in a year when many of us have maintained relationships with family and friends through social media and a few of us have penned missives which felt like a forgotten art.
Andy talks about how writing to Melissa gives him a vital outlet to express feelings and thoughts that he struggles to reveal in person. Melissa’s contrasting frustration with letters and her longing for real life personal contact drives the plot forward. The characters connect and drift apart through various stages of their lives but even when they are faced with both geographic and emotional distance, they find ways to draw back together like two magnets. The space between them is taut with the tension of their yearning; passion is powerfully conveyed without the two ever touching.
The letters span space and time and explore the dreams, aspirations, frustrations, failures and triumphs of their two lifetimes. The audience’s reaction of laughter, sighs and tears demonstrated how much this play connected with our common experience. Our masks couldn’t muzzle our essential humanity.