If you’ve never been, Jack Studio Theatre is a fantastically cosy black box set within the Brockley Jack pub in southeast London. As such, the pre-show buzz for Language Laid Bare’s production of Love Story was splendidly social, from the refreshments (fat chips, large wines) right down to the cast and crew scuttling between bar and studio.
It is this charming, ramshackle quality continuing into the show itself that makes the night somewhat special. Love Story is never going to be a barrel of laughs and a free cuddly toy. From the opening number (“ about a giiiiirl… who DIIIIIIED”) the audience is warned not to expect a happy ending. It’s a questionable tale for musical theatre yet fared well on the West End – where it was nominated for three Oliviers – and doesn’t fail to touch on this rather more intimate scale.
Caroline Keating and Johnny Muir lead a pleasant cast, which emotes well and takes turns playing live piano. Keating sings beautifully and serves as a musical lynchpin for the ensemble but perhaps doesn’t capture the quirk and lightness of Ali MacGraw’s ubiquitous 1970 film performance. Muir is fresh and optimistic and gives the American accent a darned good try. Between them, the romance is earnest and endearing and the audience cannot help but empathise with their struggles.
Director Joseph C Walsh has kept the staging beautifully clean, the passing of time is slick and believable and a strong atmosphere is maintained throughout. The score, by Stephen Clark and Howard Goodall teeters at times on the naff side of melodramatic, but a sensitive production by the company saves the emotion from drowning in cheese fondue. Towards the end of the unbroken 90-minute act, several sobs and a great many more sniffles filled the auditorium.
Love Story at Jack Studio Theatre is definitely worth a trip south of the river, particularly if you’re into weepies and bar snacks. The show is certainly flawed and far from glossy but it’s hard to leave at the end without feeling like you’ve been part of something, whether that’s the trials of the characters or the efforts of the cast and crew. Most importantly, once the show is over, you’re already in the pub.
Review written by Douglas Williams on behalf of OfficialTheatre.com