The format itself is fairly simple: different phases of love are presented by a quartet pf performers in a series of vignettes to a backdrop of classic love songs. Phases such as romantic love, lustful love and sinful love are examined in differing shades of light and dark. Whether this actually works as a concept depends very much on how far your idea of drama revolves around character and plot development. Because you won’t find any of that stuff here.
Ok so this type of production might not be for everyone. And it has to be said the absence of dialogue and a linear narrative – any narrative - is a high risk strategy demanding as a minimum punchy, super-creative direction together with performances that must be bold yet subtle. It’s a tough call.
The ‘scenes’ themselves are usually quite slick and there are plenty of nods and winks to the audience as some well-judged skits and parodies take shape: Chuckles galore accompany Leonardo and Kate as they do their lovey-dovey stuff on the prow of the Titanic, only the hands of this particular Jack wander to places they really ought not to. Impish humour is a strength this production wisely plays up to.
While the comedy is appreciated, it’s more often reserved than raucous. Any laughs are hard won, more so given the almost total lack of dialogue. Tmesis are of course first and foremost a physical theatre company, hence there are plenty of lifts, a few wriggles and even the splits to keep the faithful happy.
All four actors are indeed lithe and (male) torsos are accordingly well-toned. Jennifer Essex, Adam Davies, Eleni Edipidi and Ross McCall all bestow a zesty, raw energy to their multiple roles. Bodies certainly talk. At times they yell too. Sometimes they even scream.
Generally the show goes past at a decent rate of knots. It does sometimes dip, more often than not during moments when direction is not as crisp or defined as it might be. It’s not necessarily a criticism, but now and again it does feel like a Footlights piece, somewhat loose, uncontrolled. Occasionally it feels like a game of charades. A tad more art might occasionally have paid more dividends.
A voice-over which pontificates over the philosophical side of love will, depending on point of view, either provide a useful commentary on the action as it unfolds, or slow the pace down for not much in the way of a payoff. Whatever, it certainly punctuates the action. But who amongst us would deny these guys a few minutes respite?
Using archetypes in order to present recognisable traits does have its limits though. For one thing character struggles to emerge. That’s Amore tends therefore to deal in generalisations, in everyman and everywoman at the expense of living, breathing characters. Hence its somewhat vicarious quality. It’s the type of piece that might have been devised of yore, especially for the court, a tableaux of gentle in-jokes for those in the know.
Overall, That’s Amore is an ambitious piece of devised theatre. As such there will inevitably be parts which are more successful than others. As far as sheer effort and enthusiasm are concerned however this production can’t be faulted. As a concept, the jury is still out.
(This review also appears on The British Theatre Guide)