Thursday, February 25, 2016

Love or Money - forging a new relationship while fighting to save a business & a career (C21 Theatre)

Waiting for last night’s performance to begin, musak wafted over the heads of the audience in the Lyric’s Naughton Studio. A soulful version of “Do you really want to hurt me? Do you really want to make me cry?” set an appropriate mood for Rosemary Jenkinson’s new play Love or Money. (ABBA’s Money Money Money or Bach’s Air on the G String would also have been appropriate additions to the playlist.)

After a messy divorce, corporate lawyer Eilish (played by Roisin Gallagher) has swiped right on her 'Big Fish' dating app and met businessman Conor (Michael Condron). The nervy, fumbling chit chat after their first date along with jokes that fall flat quickly have the audience giggling with schadenfreude as we revel in the pair’s discomfort.
“In Iceland they put bankers in jail; here they run around sabotaging businesses.”

The walls of Eilish’s modern apartment spin round to create work environments and we are introduced to the world of corporate lawyers examining paperwork to find the loopholes that will allow big banks to maximise their return from the failing businesses they once supported.

Michael Liebmann plays Eilish’s boss Alec. His part is written and acted as a slimy, self-centred, impossible-to-like villain with an insufferable worldview. After her marriage and difficult departure from a larger firm, Alec hired Eilish knowing that she was “divorced, no kids and totally focussed”. He’s full of management clich├ęs – “do not be the chess piece, be the chess player” – and his ruthless ambition seemingly overrides any remaining humanity.
“I sell underwear and the bottom’s falling out of the market.”

Donning a duncher and brown overalls, Michael Liebmann is transformed into Travis, a warehouse worker in Conor’s business with his own line in stand-up and witty repartee. This everyman character perceives the financial insecurity of the firm which sells lingerie and racy accessories. (While the opportunities for humour around the product lines could have been endless, the jokes are kept to a minimum and the script steers well clear of descending into Carry On smut.)

The big reveal occurs as the work lives of Eilish and Conor collide into their personal bliss and the continued success of their respective careers appears to rely on their professional combat. When the consequences of Eilish’s day-to-day work are laid out on the couch before her, she is forced to rethink her priorities and decide between the two men who dominate her life.

If Love or Money has a weakness it is that its binary analysis sets up the finance industry and its legal teams as totally beyond redemption. Yet the underdeveloped character of Travis – who has first hand knowledge of traditional Northern Ireland techniques of intimidation to thwart legal action – is allowed to remain a soft and acceptable reaction to mis-selling loans and poor product sales.

Roisin Gallagher and Michael Condron are a particularly loveable couple on-stage and bring Rosemary Jenkinson’s witty script to life. Towards the end, their unrushed delivery and sense of timing introduces a subtle element of doubt as to whether Conor has been “all aboard the truth train” or has been taking Eilish for a ride. I interviewed the playwright in a preview post last week.

Full of laughs, pathos and pity, Love or Money is a left-wing rom com from C21 Theatre Company that champions the underdog and shines a light on the murky world of how big banks treat their soon to be former clients.

Love or Money runs in the Lyric Theatre until Saturday 27 February before touring Ballymena (29 February), Newtownards (2 March), Newtownabbey (3), Cushendall (4), Limavady (5), Newry (8), Derry (9), Armagh (10), Downpatrick (11) and Lisburn (12). Details on C21’s website. Suitable for ages 16+.

Photos by Ciara McCarrie

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