“That sex was the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.”  When seeing John Cariani’s one-act, nine-play cycle LOVE/SICK, think more of quick-witted lines such as this from Annie Hall rather than twee romcoms. Overflowing with life and energy, Matter of Act brings John Cariani’s play to life in an engaging, fun and memorable experience. Although often categorised as a writer of quirky romcoms, Cariani aptly describes LOVE/SICK as a “very funny tragedy”, dealing more with the problems of love than the ‘happily ever after.’

Set on a Friday night in “an alternate suburban reality” each idiosyncratic ten-minute play tells the story of a different couple at cross-roads in their relationship, these vignettes operating under the overarching themes of love and loss. Co-directors Olivia Marshall and Luke Dunne navigate the comedy, cliché, and melancholy of the sharply written script with skill and verve, highlighting the universal experiences of love, attraction and affection with unconventional delight.  

A strong four-person cast of Sabrina Brewer, Eddie Chapman, Noah Seltzer and Olivia Marshall form a cohesive ensemble, with each playing multiple endearing characters over the course of the nine stories. This combination proves highly effective due to the energy and seamless ability of each to shift across the wildly varying ages, sexualities and personalities of each of the characters that they portray. All have a keen sense of timing and exhilarating, sparky delivery.

From the fearless opening ‘IMPULSE DISORDER’ – set in a large Target supermarket –  it is clear that the wild, messy and complicated nature of love will run wild. Brewer and Marshall inject this scene with forceful excitement, high passion and a sense of intimate urgency. This is fitting for characters suffering from a rarely diagnosed impulse disorder, whose symptoms make them act impulsively: hence, this sizzling make-out scene between strongly attracted strangers in the supermarket. Forget simple eye contact and a shy smile – your trip to Tesco’s will never seem the same again!

These offbeat sketches include a man physically incapable of hearing the words “I love you” from his boyfriend – a phrase that “dazzles” his nervous system into submission. In ‘WHAT?!?’ Seltzer and Chapman heartwarmingly show the bravery needed in the midst of falling in love, and their coy displays and declarations of love are thoroughly charming.

Echoing Simone de Beauvoir’s 1968 novel The Woman Destroyed, ‘WHERE WAS I?’ poignantly examines the female condition, portraying a wife who searches her garage for the self she has lost since marriage and children consumed her existence. In ‘LUNCH AND DINNER’, a Freudian slip (“I had sex for lunch”) results in honest interrogation of intimacy issues for one married couple; in ‘UH-OH’ Marshall, displaying a huge emotional range exudes playful psychopathy – with enigmatic knowing glances and sarcastic tones – as she tries to find the shocking fun in the post-honeymoon period of her marriage.

Each of these stories offers a fast-moving and unique insight into the minefield of modern love, emotional vulnerability, intense attraction, the rules of dating, intimacy issues, breakups, parenthood and problematic marriages. Cariani litters the play with reminders of our 21st century idiosyncrasies.  A married couple tell each other “I’ll send you the link”; a morally conflicted ‘SINGING TELEGRAM’ man (Seltzer) ends a painful breakup by asking a hysterical now-former-girlfriend (Brewer) to “rate my performance”. Then, in an attempt to comfort her, he reminds her: “this is just temporary. Everything is”.

Matter of Act exploit these poignant moments of comedy and, despite the play’s more melancholic moments, the BT Studio was still full of laughter. Love is found and lost in supermarkets and suburban living rooms, but the banal settings are contrasted with the overload of emotion and passion which permeates even the most clinically bright supermarket aisle. LOVE/SICK is full of highs and lows – emotions and passions rise, soar, crash and repeat.

Between the stories, tracks such as Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I Did it Again’ and Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ are wittily used as transitions to each new scenario. They tease out themes and gently mock the scene that has just finished, bringing a sense of conclusion to an otherwise abrupt end of scene.

Whether you’re going through an essay crisis, manically revising for Prelims or Finals, or just enjoying Oxford life unencumbered by Trinity Term’s exam season sting, LOVE/SICK provides a captivating, thought provoking and sardonically humorous exploration of complex, imperfect love – the passion and joy of finding it, the pain of losing it, and monotony once the excitement has waned. Yet still as a society we are obsessed with love: just look at the popularity of Oxlove!

In LOVE/SICK love is blind, it was love at first sight, love comes and disappears when you least expect it. Despite these clichéd ideas that all romantic comedies navigate, LOVE/SICK avoids being schmaltzy and is bittersweet rather than over-sweet. It is intelligent and insightful, tender and at times surreal, mocking ideas of conventional love involving passion, honesty and excitement.