YOU know what they say about the Sixties, that rather silly nonsense that if you can remember them, you weren’t really there.
Olivier Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett opens his new play in 1967, the summer of love he is genuinely too young to recall. “I’m 30, not 60!” says the former Leeds University student, now writer in residence at the National Theatre, who studied theatre and English while in Yorkshire.
On tour at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from tomorrow, Love, Love, Love takes on the baby boomer generation as it retires and finds it full of trouble. Through the experiences of Kenneth and Sandra, Mike traces a 40-year journey from initial burst in a changing world in 1967 to full bloom in 2011 via smoking, drinking, affection and paranoia.
“You see their whole lives together as a couple: you see them full of hope and having children in the Sixties; then you see them with proper jobs and teenage children, and all the pressures that go with that, working hard, suffering and drinking a lot, in 1990; and finally you see them now when they’re retired and looking forward to a whole new life,” he says.
“You see how hope plays out against responsibility, and you see that play out as a fight with their children, who say ‘We’ve not got what you’ve got’, but I wouldn’t say that’s what the play is about. It’s about what did that generation achieve? And can they answer back to this generation that yes, we did achieve something?”
Did they achieve something, Mike? “I wouldn’t dare tell the audience whether that was the case or not. They’re far too intelligent for that,” he says.
“All the characters have something to say in a healthy discussion in the play – and the audience can discuss it too as it has two intervals, which is always a good thing as you can have two drinks during the show!”
Kenneth and Sandra are “nothing like my parents at all,” says Mike. “But ever since I was young I’ve been told that if you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there and that you missed the party, and then they told us that the Nineties were never as good as the Sixties and our festivals weren’t as good as Woodstock!” he notes.
For period authenticity, Mike has been thorough in his research. “What I did was watch a lot of interviews from 1967 because people speak in different rhythms in different eras,” he says. “I don’t write it as a 30 year old having a go at them, but from their perspective in 1967, putting myself in their shoes and empathising with them.
“But really it’s the story of a couple in love and they act how they do as they would in any age. They have all sorts of stresses and strains but ultimately they love each other.”
The clue is in the title! “It suggests you’re going to have a good time – it’s not too bleak – and it tells you that it’s about love in three parts!” says Mike, who couldn’t resist using a certain Beatles number one from 1967 in his play.
Paines Plough and The Drum Theatre Plymouth present Love Love Love at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, tomorrow until Saturday, 7.30pm and 2pm matinees, Thursday and Saturday; Hull Truck Theatre, Hull, May 17 to 21, 7.45pm and 2pm Saturday matinee. Box office: Leeds, 0113 213 7700; Hull, 01482 323638. Suitable for 14 and upwards.