"Definitely not a love story"
by Andy MOSELEY on 10/10/12

There is an excellent Robin Williams film with the unfortunate name 'World's Greatest Dad.' The name suggests cheese and schmaltz, when the film is anything but. The title of Ian Winterton's new play 'Still In Love' falls into a similar trap, screaming romcom to anyone who doesn't read beyond the title, when it's actually a play with mental illness, addiction, demonic possession, and religious cults all thrown into the mix. You're not going to find Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck in the movie version.

The play begins with Tam Edge lying in hospital recounting how she scrambled out of a canal in Manchester. She has been placed under hypnosis by Doctor Gibson. Inspector Rogan, the officer in charge of the investigation, watches on. Tam remembers nothing about who she is, or how she came to be in the canal.

Gradually parts of her memory come back. Tam's mother died when she was young, she was put into care, ran away and was found by Simon, a deeply religious man who grew up in a commune, and 'married' her when she was 14. He returns and wants to reclaim her, but was she escaping his religious indoctrination, and what are the 'demons' that he claims make her a danger. Doctor Gibson is unconvinced by the religious explanations, and prefers the medical view that she is psychotic and suffering from a split personality.

The various explanations for Tam's behaviour provide the scope for a very thought provoking piece. The play succeeds to an extent, but ultimately falls short of its ambitions. We learn very little about what happened to Tam in the commune, or how she came to be there. While religion and medicine battle for control of Tam, the arguments sound more like opening statements than nuanced debate, and the final scenes where Doctor Gibson's own secrets are revealed, have no relevance to Tam, but leave you wishing that they did, to tie everything together and show her as the product of everything and everyone that happened to her.

Director Matthew Gould deserves great credit for avoiding stereotypical characterisations. Guy Faulkner, as Simon, looks and sounds like anything other than a religious fanatic. Eloise Lovell Anderson gives a strong performance as Tam, switching between various mental and emotional states, and never overplaying the 'demons' at the heart of her character. David Dawkins as Doctor Gibson has a detached professional approach to his patient that belies the darker sides of his character, making them more effective when they do emerge. Claire Dean, as Inspector Rogan, is not served well by a script that uses her more as a conduit for story development than a fully formed character, and her transformation is less believable as a result, but she played the part well, within the limitations of the script.

Overall it's a good play and a good production. There are flaws, but you still leave the theatre talking about the play and the issues raised in it.

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