I Want to Know What Love Is

The Joan, April 6


I know, I know. The title turns you right off. It sounds like some sugary Valentine’s Day cabaret loaded with the sort of songs that, if you squeeze them enough, exude essence of schmaltz. Worse, it’s the wrong title for the show. Referencing one of the most obnoxious, overwrought songs in pop history for this is rather like calling The Deer Hunter movie Bambi. Yes, the show is an investigation of love, but scrutinised through an edgy, innovative lens.

Photo: Stephen Henry.

The Good Room, a Queensland-based performance collective, sought submissions from the public on any aspect of love, and, from the 800 that gushed in, director Daniel Evans, designer Kieran Swann, Amy Ingram, Caroline Dunphy and Lauren Clelland crafted this 60-minute piece of theatre. The idea that mere vox pops could result in something as complete as this is as remarkable as the tile is wrong.

Performed by Ingram, Tom Cossettini, Katrina Foster and Naomi Price, it consists of recitations of the various submissions, but moulded into interrelated segments. These begin with the expression of head-over-heels passion, amid much heavy petting and even the simulation of rather more than that. Meanwhile a million synthetic rose petals rain upon the stage, and with Jason Glenwright’s lighting and Lawrence English’s wildly diverse music, the theatricality is ramped up to 10 on the dial.

It hits 11 in the next phase, about break-ups, broken hearts and desolation. Suddenly all the fallen petals look like so much gore on a battlefield, and the four actors like mortally wounded soldiers. Among the grimmest submissions here is one from a woman whose adored boyfriend lost his mind and memory in a car accident, and never again knew who she was. As much as it celebrates love, the show also counts its cost, passion without consequent hurt being as rare as a good song by Foreigner: not impossible, but improbable. The main weakness is that, as amusing as the show is, it undercooks love’s absurdity.

The final, post-relationship chapter sees the three female actors all don daggy pyjamas of the sort one only wears when lying solo, but even as stoicism and coping are being explored, an unseen Ingram and Cossettini provide a soundtrack to an older woman initiating a boy into the game. And so the story will repeat itself forever.