Broad encounters of the nautical sort

Love Lust Lost (Broad Encounters)

Valley Docklands

July 13 – October 2

At a winter evening’s immersive show experience in the ‘Valley Dockyards’, expectation is that there might be a need to rug up. Surprisingly though, we are not chilly, thanks perhaps to the research or crew jackets we adorned as Intrepid seafarers joining Captain Anderson’s ship. While the apparel additions serve no particular purpose, it is all part of the unique, interactive, avant-garde experience that is “Love Lust Lost”.

The ambitious multi-sensory work began as an ‘80s inspired interpretation of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid” before moving into the Jules Vern type of territory that typifies the world premiere show’s aesthetic. It is not a mermaid that appears as the chamber doors open, however, but a suspended circus performer Sandy (Asher Bowen-Saunders). From there the group divides into the effective choose-your-own adventure that awaits in the 38+ room, 1500 square meters experience of the uncharted underworld realm created in provocation of what we might sacrifice or do for love and lust.

Like last year’s award-winning immersive live theatre show “A Midnight Visit”, inspired by the life and works of Edgar Allen Poe, “Love Lust Lost” is a multi-room immersive experience of music, dance, theatre, circus, magic, burlesque and secrets to be discovered. From the moment Salacia (Lucinda Shaw) entices us into her pearly world with a seductive song of toxic love, the stage is set for captivation. From there we move into a cold room (#literally) where marlin-esque fish hang around The Mariner’s (Kristian Santic) preparation for the evening’s menu of blowfish brisket and sea cucumber surprise et al. As oysters are shelled and fish are gutted, we are given experience of not just seeing and hearing, but touching, smelling and feeling the theatrical world into which we have been placed.

Beauty is a form of genius that needs no explanation, we are told, which is an appropriate and appropriately-eloquent summation of the entire experience of “Love Lust Lost”. Love is clearly at the core, with the program asking ‘Is it better to have loved and lost? Or never to have loved at all?” Indeed, it’s an ongoing theme, literally evident down to the writing on the walls, that resonates through a final pub choir type singalong to Mika’s ‘Happy Ending/Over My Shoulder’. 

“I feel like I am in always missing out on something else,” an audience member noted in one of our come-together times, effectively summarising the #fomo that entices us into tour of as many of the space’s nooks and crannies as possible. Even without characters in them, rooms appear like curious art installations… a closet full of shoes for example, from which the infatuated ingénue Sandy eventually enters to observe the mysterious Adonis Chad (Chris Braithwaite) lifting weights from the other side of his full length mirror. More is revealed of this narrative later through the ‘I Love Chad’ posters and similar signs of idolisation in a clearly teenage girl’s bedroom with Nardia wardrobe entry deeper into the labyrinth to Captain Anderson’s (Sandro Colarelli) quarters.

The show features a cast of seven stellar performers (Bowen-Saunders, Braithwaite, Colarelli, Santic, Shaw, Ben Adams and Carla Beard) working across spoken word, dance, live music and circus in exploration of the things their characters do in pursuit of love and lust. So effective is their commitment to the uniqueness of their heightened characters, that it seems like there are many more than just the seven. Each has their standout moments, such as Shaw’s spirit animal-esque share of Kate Bush’s ‘I Dreamt of Sheep’ and while the extremes of their emotions are enticing, without an understanding of their characters and their motivations, it is difficult to fully appreciate their work.

Michael Theiler and Peret von Sturmer sound design is one to behold and not just for its animal-esque and sea sounds. The soundscape is memorable from the outset as vibrant Vivaldi sounds morph into a dreamy Daft Punk number, cresendoing to a dynamic realisation in the work’s final altogether ‘hands up in the air’ party with a touch of ‘Hot N Cold’ drunken sailor celebrations.

“Love Lust Lost” is highly creative in the atmospheric intricacies created by Kirsten Siddle, at times excessively so, as smokiness sometimes impacts upon audience ability to fully experience what is on display, such as when we are all frantically ushered to a final and very unique captain’s table scene for a spectacle of fighting, dancing and strobe lighting. Olga Dumov’s costume design is richly detailed, as is the set design from Josh McIntosh and James Browne. Poking about in rooms reveals the meticulousness of this in discovery of walls filled with botany type sketches, composite portrait artworks and research journals full of contradictions for consideration, about the freedom of the ocean floor but also of hunger and fear.

The sea is an immense reservoir of nature and in the hands of Broad Encounters Productions, it is a beguiling place to spend some time, surreal even, such as when we are gathered, awaiting the captain’s arrival,  around a lopsided piano in the ‘whale room’ where, like the little mermaid, Bowen-Saunders dances beautifully not feeling the ‘knives’ cutting her feet due to the far greater pain in her heart.

“We mustn’t give the show away” Captain Anderson declares towards our voyage’s end. This would be tough to do anyway, given the nature of its difficult-to-describe and unique-to-each-person experience, so much so that participants could return again for a totally different encounter. Indeed, “Love Lust Lost” is an unconventional, unique adults-only experience. Intimate but also communal, the multi-dimensional, multisensory and multi-genre work’s approximately 75-minute duration goes by quite quickly.

If you need a narrative on which to hang your theatre experience, it is unlikely that this will be a show for you, as curation of any intended story and characters depends upon the rooms visited and bower-birded snippets of literature, theatre, music, film and pop culture encountered. If, however, you are open to immersion into art for art’s sake, you may relish this epic, irreverent experience’s wonderful post-modernist and unapologetic ‘what you see is what you get’ sensibility. While you may have to work hard to discover the metaphor, if there is one, or to unravel a story, in doing so, you may well discover a myriad of other-worldly creativity, curiousness and play in what is Brisbane’s largest ever immersive theatrical experience.

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