What does it mean to be in love? How does love evolve as we all grow older? How did love affairs in the past differ from those of today? Armed with flash-cards, recorded interviews, and her trusty guitar, the multi-talented Ruth Cockburn attempts to answer some of these questions – with a series of stories and factual vignettes set in her birth town of Blackpool.
Her jumping-off point is her late aunt's will, which mysteriously declared that – if any love letters were found amongst her belongings – they were all to be burned without reading them. It's not quite clear what happened next, but Cockburn does read out a series of yellowing letters, which could certainly have been kept by a woman of her aunt's generation. They chart a poignant story, of a love which soars and then crashes to earth, as an increasingly-desperate man begs his beloved to meet him one last time. I won't give away how the correspondence ends, but there's a quiet pathos in these written words – and an added mystery in the fact we only hear one side of the story.
Interspersed with the letters is Cockburn's own childhood story: her upbringing was a quirky one, and she describes it with both humour and affection. And there's equal fondness for her childhood home of Blackpool. The audience are armed with fun facts about the resort's glory days, and Cockburn paints a picture of a unique meeting-place, where transient tourists and locals known as "sand-growns" all find a place together.
Sometimes Cockburn segues into poetry; sometimes she breaks into song. The musical numbers start off gentle and witty, but grow more profound towards the end: this show about love finds room to discuss the disappointments of life as well. And we hear other people's voices too, funny recorded interviews with Cockburn smiles along to, as Blackpool residents of varying ages try to explain just what love means to them.
You'll have gathered by now that the show has a lot of ingredients, and the individual components stand up well enough on their own. But for me, they never quite bound together – never settled into a pattern, or formed much of a connection with each other. This is billed a play, not stand-up or spoken-word, so I was looking for more of a narrative… or at least more of a structure, to guide us through the disparate material and deliver some kind of message at the end.
It's a witty and likeable show, with a smattering of genuinely lovely moments, and it's also a fitting tribute to a town Cockburn clearly calls home. But I have to report, with much regret, that its procession of quick-fire concepts left little lasting impression on me.