Love Letters review: A fabulous tribute to Essex's finest artists
- Credit: Mark Sepple
Love Letters is the all-singing, all-dancing and all-Essex musical which the world didn’t even know it was missing.
As the cast belted out Just Can’t Get Enough and shook their hips, disco balls beamed bright lights across the audience’s grinning faces as we clapped along (slightly out of sync).
You simply can’t help but tap your feet and join in with the songs throughout Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch’s brand-new musical.
The Essex-themed show follows Danni and Justin, a young couple who fall in love, fall out and grow up, all under the watchful eye of pub landlady Sheila and postman Keith.
Danni, played by Dannie Harris, artfully portrays a bright, ambitious and witty young woman who wants to break away from the suffocating confines of her town’s four walls.
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On the other hand, Justin (Kit Esuruoso) has no intention of leaving his beloved hometown, where he has secured a job at the local pub, The Perseverance.
The clever storyline, written by the theatre’s Douglas Rintoul, homes in on significant points in the protagonists’ lives, sometimes years apart, as the lovers navigate the challenges of adulthood.
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Each scene is set in or around the pub itself, with the resident band bursting into songs which perfectly punctuate the story, from Olly Murs’ Dear Darlin’ to Glad You Came by The Wanted.
Yet this simple stage design acts as a perfect backdrop to the action-packed show, incorporating exciting and frequent lighting changes (designed by Mark Dymock), slick choreography (Tara Young) and upbeat musical compositions (Adam Gerber).
In fact, I'd go as far as to say that some of the show’s renditions were better than the original numbers themselves.
As the story develops, so do the characters’ relationships; with one another, their families, friends, and own senses of identity.
What is impressive is how Harris and Esuruoso effortlessly transition from portraying adolescence to hurried parents, and both actors deserve praise for their characters’ impressive development throughout the show.
As the Perseverance struggles to stay afloat, the community rallies together to stop their beloved pub being turned into flats.
In some ways, the show permeates place and time - the story is based in an unspecified Essex town, and explores age-old questions of growing up, falling in love and community spirit.
In other ways, the musical is poignantly modern, grappling with themes of over-development and customers' changing expectations of the high street (Sheila is appalled by the suggestion that her pub should start serving food to punters).
Unsurprisingly, Lucy Benjamin’s performance as the outspoken landlady is outstanding.
The former Eastenders actress may have been born in Reading, but she is very much an Essex girl in the show, from her jokes right down to her thick accent.
As she pulls pints, banters with punters and hands out tokens of life advice, Benjamin dominates the stage.
Her mantra- “a pub is the neighbourhood’s front room”- epitomises what the show is all about; community.
Love Letters is both a love story between Danni and Justin (and other love interests who come and go), but also a wonderful ode to Essex, working to tackle stereotypes about the county.
As Billy Bragg’s A13 Trunk Road to the Sea filled the theatre, the socially-distanced audience cheered at the list of local landmarks, which have produced the vast range of artists whose songs populate the musical.
Every so often an exasperated Sheila would cry out: “We should have a blue plaque.”
This drew a giggle from the crowds, but in many ways this tongue-in-cheek quip made an important point about what we do and don’t value in society.
Ordinary pubs, with their faded décor and lingering smell of spilt beer, are sites of historic significance.
They really are the neighbourhood’s front room and Love Letters serves as a timely reminder that community hubs, often taken for granted, are very much worth fighting for.
Love Letters runs until August 21. For tickets, visit queens-theatre.co.uk.