Jason Morell, who directed Love, Loss and Chianti in the Minerva in 2015, is returning to Chichester as the director of Love Is Only Love. He tells us about this new show and why he owes his existence to CFT!
How did you come to be involved with Love Is Only Love?
Sam Harrison and I have known each other for several years and we would egg each other on to complete our various projects. Last year, Sam came to me and said he wanted to write a positive piece about gay male identity with song and dance. I felt it was a good idea, but needed an anchor. And then in a piece of utter serendipity Sam found the diary he’d written when he was 14, documenting his first love affair. And we both said “That’s it ! That’s the story !" I thought it was a superb springboard because often adolescent tales of passion and love aren’t treated seriously enough. It’s a point in life where the hormones are raging most intensely, where the passions are deep and deserve honourable treatment – especially when it’s a true story. After all, Juliet was 14 – Shakespeare knew what he was doing!
We also talked about different forms of love, the intense crushes you have as children, the fact that Sam’s parents demonstrated another form of love in their extraordinary support of him. The piece became not only about one affair but also different manifestations of love as a boy turns into a man, as a child becomes an adult.
How did the idea come to fruition?
Sam had two weeks before he was going to take over in Les Misérables. Since we usually do nothing but procrastinate, I said, ‘Sam, I bet you £100 that you’re not going to finish your play in the next two weeks. Noel Coward wrote Hay Fever in a week, so you have two weeks to write your play based on your life. I’m very much looking forward to the money because I have no doubt that you will not have finished it by then!’
So that goaded Sam sufficiently and it arrived in my inbox about an hour before the deadline. Sam had written a piece in his own voice which is one of the hardest things for any author to do: make it sound as though someone is really speaking rather than just aiming for literary excellence. It is entertaining but also profound and touching.
Where was the play first produced?
Paul Taylor-Mills at The Other Palace in London offered us a week’s workshop, after which we presented it as a one-off at their Pride Festival. Luckily the response was wonderful. It really connected with a very wide-ranging audience, old, young, gay, straight, because it’s a universal love story. In 2019, The Other Palace asked us to headline the Pride Festival for a week. We got the wonderful lighting designer David Howe on board, added some projections, re-rehearsed and again the response told us that we seemed to have been doing the right thing.
Was David Seadon-Young involved from the beginning?
Originally, Sam had said ‘I think we’re going to find it very hard to find someone to play all the loves of my life, including my mother – I think it needs to be two performers, someone who can dance to a very high standard and someone who can act with me.’ I said OK. But Sam got in touch with David - they had done A Damsel in Distress together at Chichester in 2015 – and David was so good, so funny, so touching, so passionate that we realised we didn’t need the added complication of another performer. And David’s an excellent dancer too.
As Love, Loss and Chianti – which stars Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst – shows, you have to be patient when you’re developing a new show: it’s five years since it premiered at Chichester but it’s going to the Riverside this year.
That’s a tribute to Robert Bathurst’s patience and tenacity – we took it to Edinburgh in 2018 and it got 5 and 4 star reviews which heartened us enough to say London needs to see this. It’s a tribute to the Minerva – thank you for bringing on new work, and in the guest season as well.
Your connection to Chichester stretches much further back than 2015...
My parents, the late André Morell and Joan Greenwood, were in the first Chichester Festival season in 1962, playing in The Broken Heart and Uncle Vanya alongside that extraordinary array of actors: Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Sybil Thorndike, Joan Plowright, as well as the roll call of younger players at the time who went on to become great – Alan Howard, Rosemary Harris. My parents had been married the year before and were playing husband and wife in Uncle Vanya. I was conceived on a picnic rug in Oaklands Park when Laurence Olivier called a rehearsal break!
Who should come and see Love Is Only Love?
Everybody! We’ve had rugby players, priests, old, young, the lot. It’s one of those surprises. It was worth losing my £100 bet a hundred times over! It’s been one of the happiest experiences of my professional life.