9 June 2011
The Wicked Generation?

""A theatre review" "

By: Julia Gasper
Mike Bartlett’s play “Love, Love, Love”, currently on at the Playhouse,
is not one I can honestly recommend. For a start, it is not a good evening’s entertainment. The dialogue is bland, the action is static and none of the actors are outstanding. The two females in the cast, Lisa Jackson and Rosie Wyatt, both have harsh unattractive voices and they shout throughout as if they were addressing a deaf person. Jackson over-acts in a somewhat unsubtle way. The story is meant to cover a period of forty years, yet by the end the central characters have not put on a pound in weight or got one grey hair between them. What’s their secret?

Not only is the play dull, but it is preachy. Bartlett thinks that the Baby Boomer generation was wicked and selfish, responsible first for the swinging sixties and then for the harsh and unjust Thatcherite era, finally for being bad parents who have left their children a worse world. “You climbed the ladder and broke it behind you,” someone complains. Bartlett is not, of course, the first to come out with this nonsense. He is following a fad, of which the book by David Willets, “The Pinch: How Baby-Boomers Took Their Children’s Future” is another example. Willets seems to imagine that the generation born in the post-War Bulge were all prosperous, successful and had an easy time, while their children face poverty and other forms of deprivation. That is a complete myth. There were successful and unsuccessful people in the post-War generation, just as there are now. There were severe economic problems in the 1970s and a massive recession again in the 1980s. Not everybody who went to university like Ken and Sandra ended up rich or even had a steady job. It is a fallacy to imagine that graduates necessarily earn more than people who don’t go to university. The sociology of Bartlett’s play is shallow and inaccurate.

Ken and Sandra, the central characters, are supposed to represent everything significant that happened in forty years. First they are the dope-smoking pop-fans of the sixties, and then they turn into the yuppies of the eighties. This is somewhat unconvincing. Oh yes, and Sandra is a feminist as well, which Bartlett equates with being a bad mother. Despite sending their children to expensive private schools, they still end up rolling in money with two or three houses, private gyms and swimming pools, cars etc. The play takes a bunch of stereotypes and strings them all into one, and the result is shallow. Ken and Sandra are shown as selfish and materialistic, as if those things were somehow limited to any generation in the history of the world. They are negligent parents, heavy drinkers, and more interested in having affairs than bringing up their children who are supposedly traumatised by their divorce. Can Rose and Jamie really be more traumatised than the children who were subjected to the First World War, the Second World War, or all the massacres that have taken place around the world since? Personally I feel that along with racism, sexism and handicappism, there is now a new form of bigotry, “generationism” and this is what Bartlett is offering. He is trying to blame the world’s woes on a single generation who listened to the Beatles and went downhill from there.

I felt quite dismayed by the play’s final scene, in which the wicked parents are blamed for wanting to spend the money they earned on a trip around the world instead of buying their daughter a house. We are facing a crisis in this country of lack of care for the elderly. There are very few baby-boomers who have huge private pensions like that of Ken in the play, and a lot of old people now have to sell their houses to pay for care. Moreover we have a severe lack of care homes, and standards inside some of them have been exposed as shockingly bad. There is no room here to argue about the political or economic causes of this crisis, but I feel that in such a context, Bartlett’s whinging about the awful deprivation of his own generation is in poor taste.

Julia Gasper. http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/

 1st Aerials Oxford




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