REVIEW: Lovepuke (Auckland Fringe)

Review by Sharu Delilkan and Tim Booth

[Falling in and out of love (& puke)]

Written by New Zealand playwright and screenwriter Duncan Sarkies (ScarfiesTwo Little Boys) Lovepuke unashamedly focuses on love, sex and relationships.

Premiering at BATS Theatre in 1994, this cleverly written piece of observational theatre continues to resonate as part of the 2019 Auckland Fringe.

We have seen a multitude of performances where love is the central theme. But this is one of the few where dating is dissected in such an astute and honest way. Sarkies has the ability both to capture the Kiwi psyche and to distil human attraction within this one act play. And he appears to have cracked the whole mystery of the dating game while even managing to provide an almost psychiatric analysis of relationships in general. With his clever contrast of male and female expectations and disappointments, Lovepuke is entertaining and revelatory.

Centred around three couples, the storylines astutely represent self-confessed “sluts”, closeted gays, impotence, exhibitionist sex, jealousy, regret for past relationships, and the age-old desperate craving for family and stability.

Set in a local ‘pick-up’ bar, a background of a bar serving ‘real drinks’, and a toilet which doubles up as the ‘throne’ for Hermione (Rebekah Talsma) are the main set pieces. Chairs are utilised to their N-th degree as props for the couples, complementing the onstage action which includes various sexual positions during the seduction phase of the show. The blackboard in the background is a fabulous touch, akin to a 1940s silent film cuing the scene changes by using a flip chart.

First time director Meg Andrews makes a stunning debut demonstrating an ability to take risks and think outside the square; her courageous choices pay off in spades.

The prickly and cynical ‘Puck-ish’ character/barmaid played by Lauren Wilson is a great device to provide the narrative for the entire show. Rebekah Talsma as Hermoine beautifully interjects spoken word that provides great interludes and gives us much food for thought. Performing an ‘Amy Winehouse-esque’ sulky, sultry persona, Talsma’s ability to to provide just enough interest to warrant attention in the background allows us to digest the action rather than detracting from the main story.

Essentially an ensemble piece, the cast are totally in sync with each other. We did therefore find it a little odd that after a tidy ending, the reprise (which appears unnecessary and essentially rather confused) goes into musical solos. An ensemble musical number would have sufficed and easily conveyed the same messages more succinctly, while reducing the final scene to a more palatable length.

That said, Lovepuke is an enjoyable romp with great writing, acting and directing that focuses on love and lust in an original manner, coupled with great humour and just the right amount of pathos.

Lovepuke plays Lot 23 20-23 February and The Pumphouse Theatre 27 Feb – 2 March. 
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