Love. Money. Love and Money. Dennis Kelly doesn’t make things easy for himself in tackling the two topics that dominate our lives. And these themes, the non-linear narrative, the unrelated characters all make for a slightly convoluted play.
The story is told backwards in a series of seemingly disjointed scenes, some humorous, some devastating. All add to the story of David and Jess and all expound pervasive, inescapable, crushing money and piercing, indomitable, consuming love. Each scene differs from the last, in location and tone and, for Jeremy Neumark Jones as David and Sarah Perry as Jess, this gives great opportunity for running through the gamut of emotions. They both do this well. David is, perhaps, our villain in scene one, but as the story rewinds his situation becomes clear, and so does his essentially kind heart. Sarah Perry is fantastically convincing as Jess – troubled, bright and pathetic. The Jess we see slumped on the sofa at the beginning of the play is so different from the bubbly, musing and lovestruck figure we see at the end.
Director Christopher Adams and assistant director Hannah Roberts have set their ambitions high; the staging features tricky lighting cues, pre-recorded video, plenty of props and haunting audio. There is so much going on aside from the acting but, while these extra elements are a distraction, they do not have any kind of adverse effect on the show. In fact, the extensive integration of media and the clutter of the stage set in its various scenes is bold and a good example of how to use a theatre to its full potential.
The ambition does not confine itself to the stage for it seems that a production team has been hard at work behind this show. Booking on the website, with a choice of two seating areas designated “love” and, surprise surprise, “money”, buys entry into a prize draw; school groups wishing to see the play are given tours of Oxford and informal talks with the team; but, most significantly, fifty percent of the profit from the play will go to the Oxford Gatehouse, a charity that helps homeless people in Oxford. Other special events and reduced tickets to clubnights ensure that this show is covering all its bases in getting tickets sold.
This all-encompassing PR element is, perhaps, apt because the play is telling us that love, money and its effects are universal. In the play, a man is stabbed for breaking someone’s expensive mobile phone; a lavish headstone is shattered because it overshadows the humble wooden cross of the plot next to it; a woman is murdered because her inability to stop spending money has put her family in huge debt. In reality, the average household debt in the UK is £8,562; the number of marriages ending in divorce in 2008 was 121,779; 1,250 people are sleeping rough on any given night in England.
Love and money are the explicit themes. What seems to me to be implicit, and even more dominant in this play and in our lives, is death. Death is a part of almost every scene and, in the slightly farcical, theatrical reality of the play, it is easy to see its prevalence – and its appeal. This is not a depressing play. Louisa Holloway and Felix Legge provide a darkly comic edge as they mourn not over their dead daughter, but the price of the gravestone. Etiene Ekpo-Utip is enjoyably madcap. But it is clear that, of the driving forces of our cluttered and conformist and consumerist lives, there are three of them in this relationship: love, money, and the great leveller, death.