• Amy Toledano

Lovers Anonymous presented by Encompass Theatre Collective

What is it?

An immersive show that takes place at a taster session of a relationship help group that turns out to be a bit more than anyone bargained for.

What's it all about?

Chairs set up in a circle, over eager group leaders that border on cringey and a table with coffee, tea and biscuits. This is the taster session for a ten week course called Lovers Anonymous, in which people are invited to share and explore their emotions and relationships relating to love.

Our group leaders Sandra (Rebecca Gibbs) and Mike (Edward Kaye), a real life couple (don't ask them, they will remind you), open up the group and ask questions about first dates, current relationships and what love is really all about.

There are the group regulars such as Clifford (Sebastian Porter), a "musician" who has been unlucky in love, and Simon (Oliver Roy), a quiet soul who just watches women from afar.

There are also new faces such as the over confident and often confused Mickey (Steven Calvert) who is used in a role playing exercise, in which he goes on a date with another group member (strangely both of them have a moment where they have to ask if going on a date with a man is the same as going on one with a woman" which is jarring). Once the role play ends, Mickey and his date have some light banter, which is slightly flirty and jokingly hints at sex.

Another group member Annie (Grace Wardlaw) takes offence at this, and starts a debate about sex and porn and the issues she has with the industry.

The piece also delves into physical movement sections that are used to give insight into the real lives behind the faces presented at the meeting, and as both real life and the facade collide, latecomer Melissa (Silvia Manazzone) drops an emotional bomb that makes even the experts doubt their brilliance in love.

How did it make me feel?

I am a fan of immersive theatre, and the idea is a strong one. However I couldn't help feeling that the piece dragged the entire way through, and with the cringe factor usually making for an unpleasant experience instead of a funny one.

The characters don't particularly feel like real people, more cartoonish-like characters with back stories that feel lack-lustre or non-existent.

The movement sections are also incredibly jarring and feel over the top and out of place.

Story wise, the piece doesn't particularly go anywhere, with the reveal of a relationship between Melissa and Sandra, being a fairly obvious one, and one that feels like it is supposed to challenge monogamy, but does so in a round about and unclear way.

The piece doesn't connect from one moment to the next, and strange tangents tend to occur quite regularly. However the highlight is definitely when group regular Clifford quite literally loses it and storms out of the meeting with a hearty "F**k You" to both group leaders. Sebastian Porter is hysterical in his measured anger that bubbles over and provides the relief the audience has so been waiting for.

Where Is It Playing?

The Space theatre provides the perfect church hall vibe that this show needs in order to give it its Lovers Anonymous touch.

Anything Else?

Strong energy from the cast, but an overall disjointed show that misses the mark on an idea that could, with a little more structure and direction be a really great piece of immersive theatre.

Amy x

Lovers Anonymous is playing at The Space Theatre until the 19th July 2019

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