Love, Love, Love, Palace Theatre, Watford

Sixties satire that’s right on song
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If you are the progeny of baby- boomers and you still can't afford to purchase a flat even as your parents head off into comparatively comfortable retirement, Love, Love, Love – Mike Bartlett's lethally funny new play – will provide you with head-rush of pure comic catharsis. Premiered in a Paines Plough production by James Grieve that is both astringently satirical and highly engaging, it's structured in three acts that leap from 1967 to 1990 and 2011.

The Beatles' hippy anthem "All You Need Is Love", whose first line gives the play its title, is about to be performed in a live television link-up of 26 countries in the first act that sees Sandra – a posh, debby dolly bird – dumping the sexy but square Henry (excellent Simon Darwen) in favour of his layabout student brother Kenneth (brilliant Ben Addis), who, though only four years younger, seems to hail from a different generation. Henry may wear a leather jacket that makes him, according to Sandra, look like Joe Orton, but he's very much not into poofs or drugs.

I was 12 at time and watched people very like this lot with a mixture of naive, prurient envy and healthy scepticism. Bartlett was still 13 years away from birth and it's quite uncanny the way he has captured the spirit of the times; in particular, Lisa Jackson is killingly funny as she delivers the hilarious arabesques of total solipsism that masquerade as a radical stance in her stoned mind. "We're going to die!" she declares bewailing the problems posed by Russia, the Bomb and Vietnam but it's more part of her zonked seduction strategy than anything you could relate to principle and the act ends as Henry and she dance in a cosseted egoism à deux to the televised Beatles' number.

In the following acts, Bartlett treats us to a drama that combines all the pleasures and more of the kind of time-jumping play that Alan Ayckbourn might write if his social antennae were in first-rate nick and the unholy delight you would get if the relationship between Edina and Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous were to be placed in an acutely intelligent socio-political context. By 1990, Kenneth and Sandra are becoming disillusioned with their privileged lot as yuppies and both have sought "fresh meat" with Sandra choosing the 16th birthday party of her poor, frantically hurt and frustrated daughter (superb Rosie Wyatt) to do a public autopsy on the marriage. Set just after a school concert that her mother only narrowly attended and in the midst of a painful break-up in the daughter's own life, this act is beautifully conceived and performed.

"Everyone I know has less than their parents did at their age," announces the now 37-year-old daughter in the final scene as she tries to persuade her father (discovered in linen-suited early retirement) to buy her a flat. Her brother (a disturbingly authentic James Barrett) has retreated into a Ritalin-ised, OCD layabout life that is like an awful travesty of that enjoyed by his father at the start. The daughter can hardly make her request for a lift to the station heard above the din of the Beatles chanting from "All You Need Is Love" as the parents once again dance to it obliviously. Not to be missed.

Now touring (