By Danielle Farrow
In L-O-V-E, Volcano Theatre presents a highly skilled, intense, physical ménage-a-trois based on sonnets by William Shakespeare. A poet, a dark lady and a ‘lovely boy’ grapple with their own and each others’ affections and bodies, with much physical prowess, a great deal of sweat and a frisson of danger.
There are 3 chairs and a framed bed, forming a four-poster, draped in red velvet, and the staging utilises just red, black and white for set and modern costumes, with lighting shifts that add a blue tinge into the colour mix. Music ranges from delicate period, through chanteuse songs to heavy metal, and along with these modern touches, adlibs and what seems improvised texts are sometimes thrown in. Some of these add punch, but others are weak and incongruous.
The sonnets themselves appear in whole form and as scattered and interwoven lines, particular sections recurring and with some of the most famous phrases added into the mix, rather than explored in full context. The Dark Lady (Mairi Phillips) shows the most variation in her handling of the language and changes of tone, though this was not at first evident. The start of the piece involved a quick immersion in fevered passions and the presentation of such felt false and forced, both due to the choreography and its execution by the cast. A gentler beginning may have left more of a journey, for while some lighter moments emerged fairly early on, there seemed over-much wallowing in the physical passions and destructive behaviour, which was not fully earned by the crescendo of violence that ensued, with the show lasting longer than needed. There was, however, a still-shocking-today sequence which impressed, involving a knife used most threateningly that was proven to cut material. Also, ideas such as the youth showing a sonnet from the poet to the woman and the two mockingly dissecting it, and moments which gave new meaning to lines, proved intriguing.
The motifs of the choreography and text repeat and build, with variation, which – while overlong – weaves an intricate web and the physical performances of all three actors is very strong. The ‘lovely boy’ is more skilled in movement than in real connection with Shakespeare’s words, and overall there is some question about how much audience members will actually care for any of these characters and what happens to them, but this is the kind of piece that is likely to elicit very varied responses from its audience.
L-O-V-E is a forceful, physically impressive show, which certainly takes Shakespeare’s sonnets out of the realms of dry academia, but which misses out on four stars due to some of its passion seeming weak in connected performance and the feeling (shared by others present) that it lasts too long.