Feb 14 2021 | By More

★★★☆☆   Frothy

Online: Sat 13–Sun 14; Fri 18–Sun 20 Feb 2021
Review by Hugh Simpson

roulette, Production Lines’ latest foray into online theatre, makes excellent use of technology. If it is unaware of exactly where it is heading, there is considerable enjoyment to be had along the way.

In Claire Wood’s script, television dating show Love Roulette has migrated to Zoom, with the audience determining which lucky couples can escape lockdown restrictions for romance.

The Love Roulette Presenters – Alan Patterson (Rex), Keegan Siebken (Dion) & Neil Colquhoun (Maestro). Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Supposedly ‘interactive’ live productions, where the audience are invited to determine the direction of the story, are familiar enough from plays aimed at children. The drawback in such cases is that usually the only thing that is being decided is the order in which a pre-determined set of events will be experienced – and that is also very much the case here.

Fun as the onscreen polls may be (and however much they may reinforce the live nature of proceedings), they largely decide which pair of contestants will interact next. The heart sinks a little when we realise that the couplings we have rejected will be coming around eventually in any case.

It doesn’t help that the characters rarely rise above the two-dimensional. This is not the fault of the performers, who do their best to give life to the contestants. Caroline Mathison lends gloomy marine biologist considerable realism, which is echoed by Lorna Craig’s kickboxer Harriet. Vanashree Thapliyal manages to animate the underdeveloped character of doctor Saira.

infectious comic relish

Gregor Haddow’s wild man Vardo has an infectious comic relish, something shared by Richard Lydecker’s sleazebag Tristan. The trouble is that every time a new conversation starts, we are back to square one, and there is a consequent feeling of treading water. Any progression in the story is – much like how the Queen is apparently able to waive pandemic restrictions at home and abroad – left as a mystery.

The cast of Productions Lines’ roulette. Screengrab: Thom Dibdin

Almost at the last, we do have some sense of forward movement – and indeed a degree of poignancy – largely contributed by Alan Patterson, whose performance as Rex the host is one of real command and some depth. He is fortunate that he has something to get his teeth into; his co-host Dion is another character that rarely gets beyond a stereotype, although Keegan Siebken displays large quantities of brio in the role.

considerable fun to be had

Despite the general lack of depth, there is considerable fun to be had. The whole thing breezes along, and -even if there are too many of them – the various interactions rarely outstay their welcome. Director Ross Hope and technical director Andy Ellis should be congratulated for a seamless whole, and Wood’s script largely stays the right side of cliché.

Michelle Pegg’s design is also first-rate, with the various characters quickly delineated by their onscreen appearance and chosen background. Neil Colquhoun’s Maestro provides suitably cheesy music.

What shines through is the desire to make online theatre work. The ‘interactive’ element here ends up detracting from the storyline rather than enhancing it, but the invention and commitment are commendable.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Sat 13/Sun 14 and Fri 19 – Sun 21 November 2020
Evenings: 8.00 pm
Tickets and details: book here.

Tickets are free but audience members are asked to make a donation to Acting for Others, which provides financial and emotional support to theatre workers in times of need through its 14 member charities.

Twitter: @ProductionLines


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Comments (1)

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  1. Suzanne Senior says:

    I really enjoyed this. It was fun and entertaining. The only gripe I would have is that Tristan was so creepy that no one would want to inflict him on any of the other contestants!

    I actually thought the interactive element of the piece worked well as the Chat facility replicated that of one of the ubiquitous Zoom chats that we’ve all got used to during the pandemic – it added a sense of normality.

    In fact, I had fun contributing and joining in with the comments! I didn’t think the outcome was predetermined either.

    The acting was excellent – I thought, in particular, that Caroline Mathieson’s Eartha was well-rounded and human. Saira, however, reminded me of a sillier version of Lisa Nandy! I thought the male contestants were more two-dimensional – maybe because the writer is a woman, she has more insider information!

    I loved the pacing of the interaction between Rex and Dion and thought it was a good twist in the plot to give him such a tragic backstory, and there was no better character for him to confide in than Eartha.

    All in all, I would have probably given it an extra star. I also thought it worked very well on Zoom and almost replaced the theatrical experience.