Review of ‘LUTG Presents: Collective Dating’

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LUTG’s latest production, a Zoom version of V. B. Leghorn’s Collective Dating, fully embraces the limitations of pandemic era theatre. While this wasn’t my first time watching a production over Zoom, director Jacqui Clark has clearly proven to be up to the task of staging an entirely virtual production. Every performer knew their lines and adjusted well to being miles apart from each other, which is no small feat considering the myriad of gaffes and technical hiccups which have the potential to plague virtual productions.

However, the drawbacks of using Zoom, such as the occasional buffer, out-of-sync audio, and poor Wi-Fi on my end, could sometimes get in the way of the excellent performers and led to some lines being cut off. The unavoidable lack of interaction with the audience really makes you wish we lived in the timeline where this was in-person and you could laugh along with the jokes, marvel at the staging and movement, and experience the communal thrill of in-person theatre. But despite the unavoidable absence of a stage and audience interaction, the humour of the script and the skill of the performers still shone through.

The production performs five of Leghorn’s collection of twelve one-act plays, all showcasing satirical looks at modern dating, each with its own touch of insanity and wit. The first features five lovelorn singletons being coached on online dating by a self-described love guru played by Lewis Pugh. Pugh’s manic energy and magnetic stage presence brilliantly brought the character to life and perfectly embodied the zany charm and absurdity of professional dating coaches.

The second play follows a lucky (or perhaps not so lucky) young woman, played charmingly by Nishi Sockalingam, who competes on what appears to be a dating show in the vein of The Dating Game and The Bachelor and is presented with a choice of three men by an unhinged “host”. Tom Wilson as the host channels the hyperbolic lunacy that pervades the dating show genre in a fourth-wall-breaking play with many standout performances.

The other three plays all operate under the same concept: speed dating. Each one features two people matched together by a sinister system to varying results. Our first couple doesn’t start out on the best of terms, while the second couple, played superbly by Ed Hoult and Cat Thomas, slowly reveal themselves to be more unstable than they first appear. And for the showstopper, our third couple unexpectedly hit it off until the tragicomic ending in a setup reminiscent of Black Mirror’s ‘Hang the DJ’.

Leghorn’s one-act plays fall into the same genre of relationship satires as the aforementioned ‘Hang the DJ’, Her, and The Lobster, and still manages to leave a stamp of wit and originality while successfully covering a broad range of topics and characters in relatively short spans of time. And ultimately, LUTG’s skilful adaptation to virtual performance has proven to be a joyous experience more than worth watching.

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