Playful, lively and wonderfully funny, Anything with a Pulse by Eliana Ostro (who is both writer and director) depicts a tender love story smothered under a generous layer of insecurity, peer pressure and cheesy chips. It’s the kind of romance that will be all too familiar to anyone young enough to know that, whilst it’s possible immortality could be invented in our lifetimes, the idea that this would give us long enough to pay off our student loans is a whole new level of fantasy.
As we file into the Hen and Chickens Theatre, the high-energy tone is set by a young woman (Annie Davison) and a young man (Rufus Love) dancing animatedly and studiously ignoring everyone else in the room, especially each other. The two then begin to narrate their attempts to navigate the fraught sexual and social currents of the nightclub whilst retaining some semblance of dignity.
No sooner is the traditional boy meets girl narrative established, however, than it is wittily subverted as the two separate narrations become intertwined, puncturing their personas to excellent comic effect (“He hopes she doesn’t notice.” “She does.”) The fourth wall is dispensed with before it’s even had its planning permission approved, adding an extra layer to both the humour and insight of the exchanges, highlighting not only the absurd hypocrisy of these situations but the lengths we are prepared to go to in order to maintain these fictions, to stick to the collective script.
The play is at its best during the slick interchanges between Davison and Love who command our attention with effortless skill and impeccable timing. Aided by Ostro’s assured direction, the frequent sudden changes in tone gently challenge some of the more harmful narratives surrounding sex and relationships. Love’s character’s acknowledgement after a one night stand that he “feels confident and manly and a little bit lonely” is a particular favourite. Whilst these kind of observations do lose some of their momentum during the longer monologues, which occasionally stray a little too far into exposition, for the most part they rarely fail to take us somewhere unexpected.
Davison and Love’s performances are rendered even more impressive as both remain onstage throughout the hour, cramming the simple set with an absorbing tapestry of supporting characters they weave in and out of, each instantly recognisable by distinctive accents and physical performances. Especially enjoyable is Davison’s portrayal of Love’s character’s crude, menacing friend Bradley. On the other hand, there are some slightly uncomfortable class connotations running through the production’s representation of the largely working class secondary characters whose vulgarity is often used disparagingly as a foil for the more sensitive, middle-class protagonists. And whilst the production provides a refreshing perspective on feminism and masculinity, it does do so very much within the assumption of a white, heteronormative social group.
Nevertheless, Anything with a Pulse remains a remarkably confident, exciting and insuppressibly witty adventure, diving, with light-hearted honesty and affection, beneath the romanticised surface of being young and single into the sticky depths of doubt, loneliness and awkward encounters. Indeed, the latter provides perhaps the best moment of the whole performance, in a hilariously innovative scene simultaneously capturing both the elation and the banality of sex. Despite people under the age of about forty having no career prospects and, imminently, no planet to pursue those non-existent careers on, after an hour of watching two people bonding over a nostalgia for ‘Mr Brightside’ and a shared love of inappropriate paedophile jokes, I leave Anything with a Pulse reassured that young love, at least, remains well and truly alive.
Anything with a Pulse played The Hen and Chickens Theatre on 21 July and will now transfer to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 2 August to 26 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe Festival website.