‘Love/Hate Actually’ and ‘This is Your Trial’ were immersive.
Do you believe that love is hoarding videotapes of your best friend’s wife? Or perhaps it’s asking a stranger to marry you in broken Portuguese? Or maybe it’s standing in a street with a bunch of signs on Christmas night?
If so, then you’ll find yourself agreeing with writer-performer Amy Currie, who played the “love” half of ‘Love/Hate Actually’ at Fortitude Valley’s Elements Collective on Friday, 11 December.
Fellow performer and Act React creative producer Natalie Bochenski was the impassioned “hate” half of the comedy. She hilariously described one of the characters in the 2003 ensemble rom-com ‘Love Actually’ as a “potentially deranged stalker” and demonstrated in a corporate-style presentation—complete with pie charts—that the majority of scenes in the movie are “problematic, frustrating or bewildering, or downright implausible.”
Previously performed in Brisbane in 2018 before running at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2019, in a one-night run of fun, Friday night marked the first performance for Act React since COVID-19 shut down the group’s operations nine months ago.
‘Love/Hate Actually’ began with a riff off the movie’s opening voiceover that was tailored to Brisbane. The duo then offered a quick plot recap/slide show for anyone unfamiliar with the original movie.
Described as “part double-act, part film lecture and part game show,” the performance was centred around the interaction between Currie and Bochenski, with a variety of skits featured throughout. Those included Currie dissecting actor Liam Neeson’s storyline by playing a therapist speaking to his character on the phone; an “Art or Porn” game show involving an audience member picked at random (“You look like a man who knows his art,” Bochenski quipped to the delight of the crowd); and “Workplace Behaviour Training”, which involved two patrons role-playing some inappropriate scenes from the movie.
The creative techniques and segments used to immerse the audience in the experience were delivered so seamlessly, it felt natural to jump from a 1950s game show to a corporate workshop set in 2020.
Bochenski ad-libbed expertly after a string of unfortunate technical mishaps; the show started late as the team tried to trouble-shoot some projector/laptop issues that prevented the videos from playing correctly. Bochenski’s “sound engineer” was in fact a bus driver she’d worked with previously who likely didn’t expect to be in charge of technical effects when he offered to help set up the projector. Forgotten props were handed out in a rush (while the actors waited on stage), specifically vote markers which allowed audience members to launch a tiny, squishy heart into the bucket of their choice – love or hate.
On Friday night, love won.
“Everything went wrong technically and then I lost the show,” Bochenski joked. “Because: 2020!”
Despite the technical hiccups, both performers carried the show with charisma and confidence, with great diction and effective connection to their audience. The crowd laughed along in delight, including through the finale – a musical parody of the now-inescapable ‘All I Want for Christmas Is You’ by Mariah Carey, which was performed in the 2003 film.
The fun continued an hour later with ‘This Is Your Trial,’ also produced by Act React, and featuring improvisers Luke Rimmelzwaan, Brittany White and Wade Robinson as judge, prosecutor, and defence counsel.
This unscripted show relied on audience involvement. Before the show began, each guest was asked to fill out a form with “Name of the Accuser (Your Name)”, “Name of the Accused”, as well as answer “What is the Crime?” and “What is Your Evidence?”
The prosecution and defence took turns interrogating the complainants and defendants called to the stand, often going on elaborate tangents and handing down sentences that included becoming the court illustrator for the remainder of the show.
Acting as the jury, the audience weighed in on such crimes as bragging about being one year old when the original ‘Star Wars’ movie came out; taking the reseal tab off a Wet Wipe packet; and (in my case) buying too much ice cream.
Rimmelzwaan, White and Robinson shifted between staying in character (often more like caricatures of the legal professions they portrayed) and allowing themselves to laugh at some of the absurdity that passed between them. An objection related to the casual use of the word “moist” earned on-stage smirks, along with laughter from the audience. There was also an element of teaching: Judge Rimmelzwaan made a point of calling out when a case involved a real legal argument to remind the crowd this improv show was delivered by people with backgrounds in law.
‘This Is Your Trial’ most recently performed at Brisbane Comedy Festival in March 2020, in partnership with UK-based ‘This Is Your Laugh’. For a taste of the fun, watch a snippet from their March performance here:
Both ‘Love/Hate Actually’ and ‘This Is Your Trial’ delivered on the group’s promise of pop culture-inspired performances, immersive theatre and comedy – and hopefully the “ghost of 2020” (as Bochenski referenced) will be left behind as we move into 2021.
Read more from Theatre Haus: Act React end 2020 with a new look.