Encompass Theatre Collective
The Space Arts Centre, Isle of Dogs, London
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll cringe…but it’s utterly worth it.
An affable man who introduces himself as Mike warmly greeted my friend and I as we entered the room. It is immediately clear that this isn’t going to be the type of theatre where you are passive; this is entirely immersive theatre but it is done in such a way that it truly does feel like a safe space.
The room is set up to look like a meeting in a community centre and there is tea and coffee up the back, seats set up in a circle, heart shaped balloons dotted about the place and don’t forget the biscuits. It’s done really well and beautifully creates a sort of blurry experience whereby you are watching a show but also you are an integral part of it even if you choose to remain silent. I loved that everyone was encouraged and welcomed to speak but it never felt like there was a pressure to. The audience members on the night I went were a reticent bunch (myself very much included) but I never felt like that impeded on the characters or stories being revealed. In fact it just made me in awe of how this really would be a completely different piece of theatre each night purely by the audience. How massively would the show change and what stories would not be revealed with a more vocal audience? I realise that an audience having an impact or altering the energy is always the case with any theatre but it would have such a dynamic impact on this work to the point where the importance of the audience’s role really shouldn’t be underestimated. One of the goals of Encompass Theatre Collective is that they “work to break down the boundaries between audience and performer” and “Lovers Anonymous” beautifully reflects that intention. Even if you remain silent and watching, you are very much a part of what is going on around you.
There were some lovely movement sections within the show that were just a real treat to watch and several different characters who got the chance to share their story. Whilst it felt mostly clear who the actors were (given away by the speaking to strangers) my friend and I did continue to try and work out who among the audience were part of it or not which was another layer of really observing other people and having the watcher become watched.
If there were any negatives to “Lovers Anonymous” it was that I felt it did not quite know how to end. Perhaps this is something that differs each show but it meandered a little on the night I was there and I was felt maybe there was too much concern with tying up loose ends. Shortly before the finish there was a beautiful, honest speech by one of the characters sat next to me that really caused a perceptible shift amongst everyone. It would be lovely to somehow finish on that. Regardless it was a beautiful and honest inclusion and one that I was still reflecting on much later. “Lovers Anonymous” was a really different type of theatre from what I usually see but I loved it. Highly recommend.
Review by Sarah Browne
Until 19th July @ Space Performing Arts Centre. Book Now.