I really like sci-fi, but it’s hard to make it work on stage. Its conventions are so intimately enmeshed in cinema that attempting to make them play out in the theatre is to give yourself a difficult task. So, it is impressive that I came out impressed by what the writer, production team, and cast have achieved in ‘Love Plus’ – on at the BT this week as part of the annual New Writing Festival.
The play tells the story of an introverted young man, James, in a dystopian future, who finds himself trying to form a relationship with a ‘Love Plus’— a sort of cybergirlfriend made 3D. As the play progresses we see him come to terms with the impossibility of making a real connection with a figure that is ultimately unreal. We also see Chris, with whom James is in love, take steps at his own self-improvement that calls into question where the divide between human and unhuman might lie.
The performances are for the most part impressive. Freddie Popplewell as James develops his performance to demonstrate a good sense of the comic lines and a sensitive understanding of the complex emotions involved in his situation, and James Mooney, as Chris, has a languorous delivery that proved an interesting energy on stage. Particularly impressive were Misha Pinnington, Katie Comery, and Isobel Jesper Jones, all playing the Love Plus, for making interesting a character that is necessarily hollow.
Helena Jackson’s direction was generally strong: the stylised movements of the Love Plus and the characterisation were indications that a lot of effort had gone into getting the best out of these actors, however the staging was perhaps unimaginative and the blocking often lacked direction.
The thing to really emphasize in this new piece of writing is the strength of Lamorna Ash’s script, which was surefooted and complexly layered. She has a real ear for great lines (“Your perfection disgusts me”) and an obvious understanding that sci-fi is a way to think about important contemporary issues. It is her script that makes sense of the theatrical space, playing with the fact that these are actors playing people pretending to be human. As the Love Plus says, “All people act and I’m mimicking people”.
This is, all in all, an exceptionally interesting and impressive work that, while not perfect, hits a lot of really interesting notes. Definitely worth a look, if not least to hear a lot of very endearingly hidden puns and see well-written sci-fi on an Oxford stage, a rare treat.