Ah, the wonderful world of Pinterest! Have you been there? If not, let me give you a guided tour. For Pinterest is like the pinkest palace of simple-minded joy. Each room is filled with shabby chic furniture, carefully chalk-painted into duck egg blue and the garden paths are lined with antique roses, grown to match your flower fairy festival head-band. In the iron-framed conservatory, endless rosettes of succulents (Pinterest-dwellers love succulents) adorn Urban Gardening havens of vertical planting and from the kitchen comes the sound of a chia seed smoothie being whizzed up for post-yoga brekkie. On the kitchen table are perfect pastel donuts made, surprisingly, from anything but donut mix – because in Pinterland, no food makes you fat, but all is #yummy. Let’s look through the window and wave casually at the undulations of firm-bodied Cycle Chic beauties on Pashley bicycles, Breton stripes crossing their sweat-free chests; there are no hills, no panting, no other traffic outside today, tomorrow, or ever. You shake a distressed, vintage volume of The Great Gatsby and out falls a girl in a fit-and-flare embroidered dress, a tattoo of the word Etsy making a path around her ankle.
Pinterland is the safest, violet-tinged place to hang out. When life gets too much and I find myself clicking a link to a little black book engraved with the words ‘People I Want to Punch in the Face’, I go onto Pinterest. There I gorge to my heart’s desire on a world without strife by the photocopier and enter instead into endless pictures of 1950s fashion, Farrow and Ball upcycled cabinets and all the boho lace accessories for the home one could ever desire.
Style over substance gets a bad press. It’s something we might say of a physically gorgeous person we are deeply jealous of in the hope that we can pass off our own bitchiness as an enviable intellect only possessed by the ugly-but-clever. It was the very thing the Aesthetic movement of the late-Victorian age was – and still is by some – derided for. But where would we be without the indulgence of instagrammed hydrangeas and fishtail plaits? In a much worse mood, that’s for sure.
Love For Love, which opened this week at the Bristol Old Vic is a stunning example of style over substance. Which sounds like damning with faint praise, but when the costumes are this good and the stage setting has been created as a continuation of the existing theatre, this is anything but. It’s rare to see a theatre production in which the costumes and scenery are so unashamedly beautiful. It was an attribute of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s last production The Hersey of Love, and is continued in this new production. The other recent Bristol production to also pay great attention to dress was the, in many ways similar, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory production of The School for Scandal. The closeness in time to the staging of that show undoubtedly (and unfairly) penalises Love for Love, solely because Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy of inheritance, marriage and farce is basically a better version of the very similar story by William Congreve.
Indeed, the ‘problem’ of a lack of substance can be pretty solidly attributed to the text itself. The company perform it with word-perfect diction, dress it as prettily as possible and still it remains as flimsy as Mr Darcy’s wet Regency shirt. Even in the minutes immediately following a scene I could recall no memorable quips or quotable sentiments. Congreve’s play is a giant blob of blancmange, as vapid and transfixing as any image of salted caramel cheesecakes on Tumblr.
Lizzy Leech and Elina Pieridou, the team behind set and costume design respectively, do a fantastic job. Angelica, our heroine who is played by Pippa Moss, is rapped in ribbons of soft teal and floats in on an Angel Delight cloud of pink satin. Her straw bonnet and confectionary colour pallet makes her the more aristocratic cousin of the lady in Millais’s Pretty Baa Lambs, a stunningly obnoxious saccharine pastoral. Amy Barnes as Mrs Foresight, meanwhile, is the studied restraint in streamlined skirts to her voluptuous and bouffanted sister Mrs Frail (Rosie Nicholls) who seems positively buoyant in the manner of those Barbie dolls with frilled skirts designed to cover toilet rolls. Each haw-haw laugh sets the feather on her perched hat off bobbing, which then continues to rock back and forth indolently like a drunk woodpecker for the next few minutes.
Style over substance might not seem like much to build a career on, but others have done it. Sophia Coppola in particular is a mastermind of making each camera angle reveal another photographable vignette. Her works are like the film versions of Vogue photo-shoots, each image more irresistible in their preserved Fairy Tale qualities. The film this show most closely resembles is Coppola’s Marie Antoinette starring Kirsten Dunst. Sexually repressed and bored to a level even Betty Friedan could not imagine, the young queen goes sugar-and-shoe-crazy, turning a narratively-flimsy film into the densest chocolate sundae of eye candy. The vision and practical skill of Leech and Pieridou do something similar with Congreve’s Love For Love – the birdsong-accented scene in St James Park being a particular high point. It would, however, be nice to see their talents and those of the cast met with a far better text in the future. One only wants to holiday in Pinterland, after all.