What does love mean to you? This is the question Encompass Theatre Collective asks us in the Space Theatre’s summer season brochure, as an introduction to their immersive show Lovers Anonymous.
To answer the question, this production sees power couple ‘Mike and Sandra’ (played by Edward Kaye and Becky Gibbs) invite us in for tea and biscuits to experience a ‘taster’ session of their 10-week ‘Ready for Love’ programme. This involves participants listening to – and sharing – their own stories of love, but naturally events don’t go quite to plan.
As risky as immersive theatre can be, Lovers Anonymous plays on the safe side. Audience members are not required to speak or interact if they don’t want to, and occasions where they are invited to do so are friendly and inclusive. Instead, the element of risk lies more in the subject matter: there is something particularly exposing and personal about participating in a discussion about love, dating and sex in the theatre space.
It works though, and as the topic of ‘Love in 2019’ is approached by various characters throughout the show, this communal ‘safe space’ is both a parody and something real. The issues raised are in turn thought-provoking, funny, disquieting and touching, and Kaye and Gibbs make a great duo as facilitators of these discussions.
Less convincing is the dynamic between Sandra and Melissa (played by Silvia Manazzone). While the tensions are clear and develop well, Melissa’s motivations and feelings seem overshadowed, occupying an unbalanced place in the overall plot.
But perhaps – in a production about a theme as old as the hills – plot is not the driving force here. What does love mean, in 2019 or otherwise? Going by this fun, dynamic production, it’s complicated, messy, hypocritical, hopeful, weird, chemical and a little bit worrying at times. But it’s worth a crack.