Lovers Anonymous is not your everyday support group. It is, however, the support group that many of us might benefit from in the tech-driven and disconnected dating world of 2019. According to the pamphlet placed on each audience member’s seat, it’s a 10-week programme offering weekly sessions, group exercises and the chance to meet with some of the world’s top experts in the field of love. It’s a safe space in which to open up about all things dating.
As an old church hall, The Space is exactly the environment you’d imagine such a group to take place in. As the audience enters, we are invited to make ourselves tea and biscuits from the trestle table at the back, with chairs set out in a circle. The leaders of the group, Mike and Sandra (none of the show’s paperwork gives the performers’ names, extending the immersive nature), chat to various people. Sandra interrogates me about the status of my relationship with my +1. It’s funny and suitably awkward.
The pair play off one another well. They’re cheesy and overly enthusiastic – everything you would expect them to be. They explain to the group that they’ve been together for five years and, supposedly, have the perfect relationship. Despite their claims, the cracks in their relationship are blindingly obvious from the off. I feel it would have been more effective if these cracks were left hidden for longer, leaving further for the narrative to travel. Their eventual fall-out does take an interesting twist, though.
Other performers work equally well together. They are seated amongst us, and their naturalistic acting means they remain hidden for quite a while. There’s great comic timing all round. The crowd is handled well, but the problem is, the crowd don’t get as much of a say as you’d think with a piece like this.
For an immersive, participatory performance, it really doesn’t feel clear when the performers want us to chime in. There is a moment towards the beginning when the room is invited to share stories (by way of putting our hands up in a heart shape, rather than raising hands, which is an amusing touch), but nobody offers one up. There follows an awkward silence, which Mike and Sandra play on well, but the audience isn’t probed much further than that – which, I think, is a shame.
Mike sets up the rules of the space at the beginning, which include no laughing at or judging others. At one point, I am told off for laughing at one of the actor’s stories, which I enjoyed. But it’s a pity that these rules aren’t really maintained throughout. To tell the audience that they’re not allowed to laugh at stories which are deliberately laugh-out-loud funny makes for an interesting dynamic. I only wish it was enforced more throughout.
For a small handful of moments, the piece changes lighting and cuts away into physical sequences. I think they are designed to give an insight into character’s lives outside of the group, or their inner thoughts. However, these feel strange and a little purposeless. There aren’t enough of them to make them an integral part of the piece, and they interrupt the form. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the artistic intention is wholly unclear.
Overall, though, Lovers Anonymous, is a really fun and enjoyable piece. I’d be interested to see how it plays out with a different crowd, and watch the performer’s improv skills really come into play. I may not sign up for the 10-week course, but I might just recommend it to a friend.
Lovers Anonymous is playing at The Space until 19 July. For more information and tickets, visit The Space website.