What is love? Can it be defined in a single sentence? According to my trusted mac dictionary love is “an intense feeling of deep affection” it goes on further to suggest that love is also “a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone”, in the case of Love, Question Mark, it would appear it is more of the sexual attachment than that of deep romance.

The New Diarama Theatre has opened it’s doors with their first public show during their ‘construction season’, with what is planned to be a trilogy of plays around Love, Hate and War written and directed by Robert Gillespie. As a budding new theatre with a blank canvas and no history, the New Diarama has certainly made it clear that beyond the newly laid floors and work surfaces, there is a new theatre in town and they mean business.

Love, Question Mark is a difficult piece. I would be lying to say if I understood everything, if all the motives of Gillespie’s writing and direction came across coherently. What I did take from it, is a notion of challenging conventions. Love is clearly not a one dimensional word, with connotations stretching in all directions. In Gillespie’s direction, we are flung between conventions so suddenly that the piece slips between serious drama, farce, and a cabaret in a blink of an eye, equally the script reflects these changing dynamics.

For anyone who is unable to hold on for the whirlwind ride of the script, there is thankfully an outstanding performance from Clare Cameron as Maria – the saucy yet oddly down to earth woman who Michael (Stuart Sessions) has brought over to be his new lover. She commands the stage in every shape possible and tackles the script with such vigor that she borders on tearing it apart. Maybe that is what is needed from Gillespie’s script, a sense of leaping from the words into a distorted form of acting, for it to work.

Sessions as the rather drab but sexually fueled Michael plays his part admirably but there is a sense of over acting to this role, which is possibly explained in the programme notes as this is Session returning ‘to acting following twenty years in the army’. Whatever the case, Cameron commands the night in Love, Question Mark and justly so.

Gillespie has managed to contain the staging elements in a very simple set consisting of a single screen and two chairs (designed by Mamor Iriguchi and Maria Garcla), leaving the focus to fall on the script. Whilst we are thrown from situation to even complicated situation eg. Maria brought up in poverty, to getting raped, to falling into prostitution leaves a little to be desired, Gillespie’s Love, Question Mark is an enjoyable piece.

He has created such absurd characters that at times the piece falls into somewhat of a farce, leaving the audience room for laughter and joy to be taken from the ever changing script. This is played out against the somewhat ‘hard hitting’ text delivered by Cameron on the experiences she had being a prostitute. Love, Question Mark does not allow you to sit back and relax into the story, with the direct address to the audience you have to be present in the space, whether this is for the best or not is unknown – it is clear that at times the strongest moments come from the interaction between Maria and Michael, not to the audience.

There are unquestionable faults with the script, but for a production to challenge the notion of convention and what love is, it does leave you thinking. Compared with the all singing, all dancing productions doing the rounds in the West End, a night of theatre of thought is greatly appreciated, and even if the script needs taming, it does make for an enjoyable experience in a theatre that holds much promise for the future.

Love, Question Mark is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 1st May 2010. See the the website for more details.