Friday, July 19

Lovestruck – Everyman Theatre

Hammy and hilarious, Paperwork Theatre’s Lovestruck describes itself as a “multi-location theatrical adventure” but is, at heart, a romping, interactive treasure hunt, accompanied by a roving cast.

The experience begins before you arrive at the Everyman bar; participants are invited to create their profile for the allegedly wildly successful dating app, Lovestruck, to browse the testimonials of its love-hungry clientele. But exploring the website, the slightly deranged tones of the clients, the suggestion of a “resistance”, it’s clear that beneath the surface there is something dark and unpalatable lurking.

It should be obvious from here that the audience are turned participant, made victim and detective at once, and that this production is in large part game with added spectacle. So you need to be just that: game. Become a single pringle at the initial mingle, create a character for yourself, join in.

It’s not completely unobvious which direction the plot is going to take. Casual browsing of the pre-performance media gives a good hint but when we meet the fabulously Spoonerised Pam Vires, we know for sure. Cue some genuinely funny vampy hamming and we’re off on our quest, weaponised with, well, I won’t say, but it’s a lot of fun.

Working in teams of people, most of whom you’ve just met, we must search for clues and fulfil a task. Combining familiar escape-room tropes with smart-phone tech, covering an area a block or so around Liverpool’s gorgeous Georgian Quarter, it requires collaboration and, with an added time pressure, a certain degree of willingness to hoof it. It’s billed as 16 plus but, in the June-light evenings of mid-summer, it’s not too scary or elevated for anyone in double figures.

With the same clues being tackled by all teams in a different order, it’s clearly a carefully conceived and tightly planned conceit. We participants could have done with clearer instruction about the props as we inadvertently sabotaged succeeding teams’ success by making off with the clues, but I’m sure this is a teething problem the company can address.

With the clock ticking, and timely WhatsApp reminders of this, the hunting element takes place within an hour, culminating in a thrilling denouement, just the right side of spoof, that had us running screaming from the fiendishly delicious Malachi whilst the hapless Arthur histrionically flaps and flails. We end almost exactly where we begin in the suitably sinister surroundings of a Masonic lodge, and near a bar, where we can celebrate our success (or not), chat to our new teammates and congratulate the cast on a hugely enjoyable romp.

So, it’s not a performance as such; more an immersement. And, what’s interesting, is how readily we assume our roles and how enjoyable it is. Had we watched a play structured around the same narrative, chances are an audience would have found it ridiculous, would have sat stiffly, waiting to be impressed. But as participants, it was both fun and funny, exciting and, yes, still ridiculous, but in the very best way.

Reviewer: Miranda Green

Reviewed: 19th June 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.