UK company Uninvited Guests makes it feel like an abusive relationship, but perhaps its Zoom version of Love Letters Straight From The Heart doesn’t qualify as theatre at all.
Superficially it resembles a participatory, turbo-version of Richard Mercer’s Love Song Dedications, the hugely popular radio show broadcast on Mix FM from 1997-2013. Yet crucial differences in medium, design and context blunt Cupid’s arrow.
Mercer’s mellifluous voice, his empathy and patience never had to contend with FaceTime — his invisibility was the mask of the oracle; you could imagine what you liked. The presenters’ faces here assume the deliberate concern of practiced counsellors, and sometimes the desperation of effortful clowns.
More important differences? Mercer was staunchly democratic, with prisoners often featuring among the lovelorn, and did he live talkback, lending a riveting sense of drama to the host’s exchanges with his guests.
With this show, dedications are written in advance, and audience composition highlights a major limitation of our theatre: it can be nauseatingly bourgeois.
As for Zoom, there is a respect, a quality of attention and communal feeling built into the shared experience of being physically present that plays an integral and irreplaceable part of what theatre is.
Video-conferencing obviously discourages it; I for one switched my camera off so the rest of the audience wouldn’t be distracted by (or encouraged to imitate) my sneers, eye-rolls and occasional retching gestures at the contrived echo-chamber of artless sincerity on display.