I first saw I Loved You & I Loved You at a Place showing in July and was immediately struck by it – even though it was much shorter at that time, costumless and a little confusing as to who was who. Now complete and touring, which has included a spell in Edinburgh at the festival, it’s matured into a particularly compelling piece of dance drama.
I Loved You & I Loved You is about the life of Welsh composer, pianist and singer, Morfydd Owen, and uses her piano scores, including some never published before, found while researching the piece. A noted beauty, she became part of the London Bohemian scene, married Ernest Jones, the first British psychoanalyst (he was mates with Freud), and at 26 died at Jones’s hand – after a botched appendectomy, done at home. They had been married within 6 weeks of meeting, but unadulterated happiness did not last and you wonder at his motives in performing such an operation. At best, theirs was a complex marriage.
The programme notes are very good on her relationship with Ernest Jones but volunteer little about the other man/men in her life, whereas the dance itself is more revealing. I Loved You & I Loved You is for 3 dance characters – Owen, Jones and Eliot Crawshay-Williams – the latter an older (and married) man, an MP of 31, smitten by her at age 19, and they clearly loved each other. Episodic in nature the 70-minute piece shows the 3-way relationship in duets and solos of love and pain. It starts at the end with her wretched death and the grieving of Jones before one of the strongest sections where the joy of each man for Owen is graphically shown as she wraps herself and her love around each of them, reciprocated and ultimately held high by them both. It’s the power of love made physical. Elsewhere we get a mad section for Jones, who strips off and screams with unhappiness and also the grieving of Crawshay-Williams after the marriage to Jones. There is a particularly good blog on all the research by the piece’s director and choreographer, Sally Marie: Researching I Loved You & I Loved You on Big Issue North.
Aside from it being a real story, what sets I Loved You & I Loved You apart from many other pieces is the richness of the telling, with period Edwardian costumes, the period music and songs of Owen, played and sung live, some narration to explain characters and plot, simple atmospheric lighting and also the occasional electronic sound-scape to set moods that Owen’s music alone would not be suitable for. Sally Marie weaves all these elements together well and is more than ably assisted by Faith Prendergast as Morfydd Owen – a tiny but powerful presence on stage, fearless in what can be powerful and hard movement and who magnifies emotions. We deserve to see much more of her. Daniel Whiley plays the troubled Ernest Jones with some verve, particularly in the nude solo, if his voice is really too soft to be heard when narrating important detail. Karl Fargerlund Brekke as Crawshay-Williams looks uncommonly like an MP slightly out of his comfort zone with the artistic and personal depth charge that is Owen – a portrayal I rather like. Also on stage are pianist (and fan of Owen’s music) Brian Ellsbury and mezzo-soprano Ellen Williams, who neatly integrates with the action. The vibrancy of live music really makes the action sparkle, though as with some of the narration you couldn’t always make out the words.
All up I Loved You & I Loved You feels a particularly grown-up work of dramatic substance. I’ve seen too many pieces that ‘explore’ relationships, often to a grungy electronic score with dark lighting, blurred video, and little sense of direction and I Loved You & I Loved You you rises above all that several notches – it has something to say about somebody real and says it most eloquently. Sally Marie needs to do more projects in this vein – many more.