Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

loft cast

Left: Paul Curran (Hubert), Cheryl Laverick (Inès), Elizabeth Morris (Sonia) and Dave Crossfield (Henri). Pictures: Richard Smith Photography

Life X 3

The Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa


How does the Loft do it? Time after time it serves up nigh-on brilliant productions which either entirely or in specific aspects verge on the best of the professional stage.

Sue Moore, the Leamington Spa-based company's Artistic Director, is one of those who above all - as actor, director, drawer-together of all production aspects - have done most of late to maintain that impressive, unvarying quality, keeping, occasionally tugging, always guiding the Loft, I suggest, to the very top among not just perfectly capable local amateur companies (Talisman, Priory, Bearpit, Criterion), but serving as a beacon of excellence in a far wider field - Nottingham, Derby, Leicester, Sheffield, and more.

I only discovered them a dozen years ago, having finished teaching and moved on via mainly Classical music and opera (but also Art and Exhibition) journalism to reviewing theatre, albeit a poor match for (above all) the great locally-educated Michael Billington.

However I had heard their praises sung often, not least from friends of the Loft's most eminent actor - one who by general agreement could so easily have turned professional - the Coventry solicitor Jeremy Heynes, whose fabulously bright daughter Victoria I taught Greek, and who not surprisingly went on to become an inspiring teacher herself, initially at least in Bristol. His son's godfather was one of those who appraised me of Jeremy's (now a very senior member) huge acting talent. 

What riches I have encountered (even, dare I venture, Musicals). A highlight, for the New Statesman, when I was its chief arts reviewer before taking up The Independent, was a photographic exhibition at the sensational Garman-Ryan (Lady Epstein) Gallery in Walsall by a staggeringly gifted Caribbean photographer, Vanley Burke ( charting the life of black people - an entire community - around him, in the Greater Birmingham area.  The Gallery's contents ( are astounding; this phenomenally gifted man an artist in the truest sense. 

But any trip to Leamington means a period of eager anticipation, of expectation, of knowledge or my guest were in for not just (always) a treat, but a model of sophisticated staging, masterly design, masterfully coordinated technicals, acting that stretches (particularly) the Loft's regulars, but also a notable flow of carefully nursed and encouraged newcomers.

loft duo

Paul Curran (Hubert) and Cheryl Laverick (Inès)

An education, in short, in how to devise, manipulate and evolve exemplary stagings of plays ranging from Shakespeare himself (even King Lear) via Chekhov and Arthur Miller to new . . . emerging this very day.

The Loft's latest enterprise, directed by Sue Moore and designed with almost Kandinsky-like glaring colour (a dazzling array of reds - flats, floor, seating, furniture -is "Life X 3" (ie in three sections), a four-hander by 64-year-old French (origins Iranian-Hungarian) playwright Yasmina Reza. Predictably, the quartet of actors was first-rate. Dave Crossfield as Henri the edgy, fussy, put-upon new father; Elizabeth Morris as his tired, post-natal irritable, not averse to the odd dalliance (though always returning. The other duo are bluff Hubert (Paul Curran), who always finds a way round things (or at least concocts excuses); and his more thrusting wife Inès (Hispanic-Portuguese name with the acute accent), whom Reza uses to stir things up splendidly.

Not a single criticism of this quaternary ensemble. They are made to work hard, and one compliment one can easily pay to the whole show in three bits is that each rose to the challenge with aplomb, striking presence and nursed by Sue Moore, who was constantly devising new adjustments, placings, blocks, a great gift for tomfoolery - crucial to the satirical, one might even say periodically cynical, writing.

Ah, the writing. Reza's last play to gain worldwide performances - you might find it in Turkey, Bulgaria, Angola or Bangladesh (oh yes, in New York) - was the hugely acclaimed "Art". Not my cup of tea, I'm afraid. The problem with "Life X 3" is one that might beset any three- or four-hander. To match Pinter, or Simon Gray, or David Hare, you need (ideally) a great deal of cultural undertow, of pertinent baggage, of intelligent diversion. Acclaim or no, I don't find it in Reza's writing: it slots into too small a world, its intimacy is predictable and pretty thin, the interchanges often delightfully fnny (they were here); above all it needs pacing, not spacing.

Hardly surprising, then, that what excelled was not the content, but the jamboree of ideas furnished by Moore and her talented ensemble to keep the whole thing flowing. They did so well. They kept us interested, just as much in the intended marital trivia with which the play is littered.

But not surprising, then, that the real star of the play was the caterwauling, endlessly demanding - not baby, but (can you believe it?) six-year-old, the imperious voice and exhaustingly taxing insistence which causes Sonia (Morris) to be buried in her own lost temper tantrums and Henri (Crossfield) to emerge as the wettest possible of cooing, doting daddies. The sound work (James Ruffell, with the Loft's always superb technical team controlling) was just amazing, concocting (and precision timing) the ultimate nightmare of a spoilt child. Naughty but nice.

Roderic Dunnett


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