Love Song, New Ambassadors, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

John Kolvenbach certainly knows how to attract the big-name stars. Woody Harrelson and Kyle MacLachlan came across the Atlantic for his tale of two estranged brothers, On an Average Day, in 2002, and now Neve Campbell, Cillian Murphy, Michael McKean and Kristen Johnston unite for Love Song. You can't help wishing, though, that Kolvenbach had given his actors something a little more substantial to chew on.

Love Song is the story of a brother and sister, Beane (Murphy) and Joan (Johnston), whose lives are transformed by the arrival of the mysterious Molly, who breaks into Beane's flat and with whom Beane falls crazily in love.

As the play opens, Beane sits alone in his poky, sparsely furnished abode, where an ever-lowering ceiling adds to an oppressive feeling of Beckettian gloom. Then, in the blink of an eye, Scott Pask's ingenious designs whisk us across town to Joan's brightly lit, expensively decorated pad. The director John Crowley (The Pillowman) is at ease with such theatrical trickery and this production has a filmic feel, complete with opening credits and an up-to-the-minute soundtrack.

As with their homes, Joan is everything her autistic, fragile brother is not - larger than life, loud, driven and domineering. At first the quick-fire repartee between Joan and her husband Harry is tiring, but as Joan loosens up under Molly's influence we witness a romance rekindled. Johnston is initially overpowering but her energetic presence ultimately carries the play and McKean provides her with a likeable foil. The scene where they decide to pull a sickie is an especially good showcase for their excellent comic timing.

Unfortunately, the love scenes between Beane and Molly are less captivating. While Murphy is magnetic - all blue eyes and twitching hands, he moves comically from painfully shy "wallpaper" to garrulous, amorous male - Campbell's diction is distractingly strange, her voice strident, and we are never really persuaded to entertain the possibility of a real romance.

In Love Song, Kolvenbach asserts the power of love and the possibilities of the imagination, exhorting us to indulge in the joys of storytelling and unlock our potential for make-believe. But it's the flimsiest piece of whimsy on which to base a 90-minute play.

To 3 March (08700 606 627)

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