Immersive theatre has always been hit or miss for me.
With immersive theatre, the performance space is expanded beyond the typical theatre seats and stage setting. Equipped with a large scope to play with for patrons and performers alike, essentially anything can happen. Putting my hesitation aside, I gave into my curiosity diving headfirst into the Melbourne season of Broad Encounters’ LOVE LUST LOST, a nocturnal nautical playground that seamlessly mashes together circus, cabaret, dance, burlesque, and escape room magic to create a rare and raw experience that is mesmerising and wonderful.
Created by Kristen Siddle, co-written by Helen Cassidy and directed by Scott Maidment, this deep-sea cabinet of curiosities allows the audience the freedom to wander around in an under-the-sea establishment that is part grotto, submarine, ship, speakeasy, museum, gallery, and all adventure.
Arriving early, we were greeted by cheerful staff who provided us with wristbands and advised us that we could wait at the front bar before our session started. In the foyer there is an eye-catching neon sign with the show logo that is an ideal photo opportunity to those (like me) who love sharing their escapades on social media. This is important to note as during the show you aren’t permitted to film or take photos due to the prevention of leaking spoilers and to freely allow attendees to be fully engrossed in the experience without our devices getting in the way.
Once our session was ready to start, a staff member provided our group an introduction into LOVE LUST LOST while also sharing a little background information on the venue –The Astral; an old, abandoned building that will sadly be demolished not long after LOVE LUST LOST’s run concludes. The building is filled with custom amendments specifically for the show, also containing narrow corridors, steep stairs, and uneven floors. A little advice: if you are attending, it is best to wear comfy flat shoes. You are going to do a lot of walking and wearing any shoes with heels will make the stairs a nightmare for you.
The next thing we knew, we were ushered through a door which led us to a path where we collected uniforms to wear on our journey. This is optional but it does add that little bit extra to your experience. Now dressed in appropriate attire, we were ready to enter the world of LOVE LUST LOST.
With some clever lighting and audio that almost vibrated throughout the entrance room of the decompression chamber, it really felt like that we had submerged towards this underwater secret dwelling that was unveiled before us. From here on, audiences were part of one big ‘choose your own adventure’ live action. Left, right, upstairs, downstairs, your experience is up to you.
Whether you’re the type to want to explore every inch of the venue, are more reactive and feel the need to follow the noise around you, or if you feel like following a specific character all the way through your discovery, there is no right or wrong way to experience this show. The world, or more specifically, the LOVE LUST LOST world, is your oyster.
The creative set design lead by Mike Finch, sound design by Michael Therilor and Peret von Sturme, lighting design by Jason Glenwright, and the intricate costuming, really made me feel like I had left Melbourne and had stepped into a dark fairytale full of strange characters, just as strange as the experience maze around me. I was surprised to discover that there were only eight cast members because they appeared to be everywhere. However, due to the excellent sets, it never feels like a room is empty or lacking when the cast aren’t present either, and all eight of them are fantastic.
Sandro Colarelli is fantastic as Captain Anderson. A little genius and a little mad, he is a keen character that finds much joy the more that patrons wander about his vessel. Also wandering the vessel himself, Captain Anderson seems loving but also very lost and lonely. My favourite part of his performance would be during a brief moment in a dark lit room where he unexpectedly charmed a few lucky patrons to join him in chants of affirmation.
Chloe Towan plays Claude or ‘Lobster’, who appears friendly and inviting in her role. Whether she drags you into a room needing your help, is breaking into song, or is playing the piano, Towan is a star. The talents of this actress are astounding, to the point where I found it hard to leave her when I wanted to venture further around the venue.
Jeremy Lloyd is phenomenal as Chan. Their presence was enticing, dynamic, and intimidating, and their passion for the role is infectious. The way their body flowed to the music during the performances I caught was captivating. The dance I was lucky to witness felt powerful, electric, and had its own narrative, as if Chan was fighting an invisible enemy. I was honestly left gobsmacked by their entire being. Lloyd is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Kristian Šantić is hilarious as head chef Stefano. His natural comic timing was a delight and his vibrant presence was always fun yet fleeting. I never wanted him to leave. His chemistry with Sho Eba’s sassy and cheeky Trink, and Callum Mooney’s suave and mysterious Sea Creature was also great to watch. Plus their unexpected love triangle was funny, dramatic and something I never knew I needed to see. Eba also surprised me early on in the show when I stepped into a room. I only wish I saw more of them throughout my journey.
Meg Hickey is stunning and gorgeous as witch Salacia. Fully committed to her character, her stances, and facial expressions, even with the way she carried herself was hypnotic to watch. Last but not least was Bri Emrich as Sandy. I only had glimpses of her, but it was an impressive moment nonetheless when she artfully provided acrobatic performance that left me in awe.
Exploring every room and inch of LOVE LUST LOST’s domain, at one point I did worry if I had gone to every place possible and felt stressed there was nothing more to do and I had no where else to go. However, my anxiety was more based on my past experiences with immersive theatre where I had previously gone into every room and had caught a performance just as it was ending.
This was not the case with LOVE LUST LOST as I quickly found that no matter where I was, the cast found me and quickly welcomed my presence. Whether I found my feet instinctively directed to where I heard music and sound, or if I followed a character, I never felt that I was left out of anything important and was very pleased with everything I managed to see.
No doubt, LOVE LUST LOST is a brilliant piece of theatre. It is also finite. At the end of its run, the venue will be knocked down and you will never have the chance to experience a show like this again. So, whether you’re a theatre fan, normally love escape rooms but want to be puzzle free, or just want a fun night out, this is one show you must not miss. Its finale alone was severely entertaining, incredibly moving, and won me over in the end with a new found love for immersive theatre.
It is evident that so much time, thought, heart and effort have gone into this production, transforming a very detailed ambitious concept that Broad Encounters have been completely and passionately devoted to, into a real tangible experience that some creatives could only dream about making. I can only imagine what Broad Encounters could achieve with more space and more funding.
Everyone involved has provided their own unique ingredients to form this imaginative theatrical maritime masterpiece. Despite my initial apprehensions, I was both floored and touched by LOVE LUST LOST. I truly loved it and would go back in a heartbeat.
Broad Encounters’ LOVE LUST LOST is now playing at The Astral in Melbourne until October 29.
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Photography by Jeff Busby and Graham Denholm.