There’s a fine line between love and hate, and after LOVEBITES brash opening, it’s fair to say many of the audience side with the latter. Looking round at the various faces in the sold out White Bear Theatre, some seem party to what is in store – LOVEBITES was previously performed in Australia before travelling over to the UK – however, most of the audience look petrified as to what they have just let themselves in for and it’s impossible not to wonder just how many of them will return after the interval.
With no spoken dialogue, LOVEBITES is a sung-through musical made up of 8 bite-size stories of love. After the initial shock has worn off, the colour begins to return to people’s faces. The laughs commence and the originality and musicality of the piece begins to slowly shine through so that by the third story (A Single Poppy), LOVEBITES proves it’s not the brazen-faced one-trick pony it was previously thought to be. Set up like the inside of a changing room, Verity Johnson’s stage design involves various items of clothing and accessories hung up around the stage. Reminiscent of a drama school exercise whereby the choice of a certain outfit or prop determines the type of character; the cast (Charlie Bowyer, Alasdair Melrose, Ariane Sallis & Jessica Tripp) inhabit a diverse mix of people for each story. A well-hidden piano; played with great flair by Tim Shaw, accompanies the cast on stage and with such a basic set, director Grace Taylor and choreographer Charlie Burt, have the difficult task of ensuring the audience’s attention is kept at all times. The staging and movement is inventive and adventurous. A mix of physical theatre and dance, where each prop has a purpose. Various wooden boxes are placed around the stage and these are used in every piece, the literal building blocks of each scene.
LOVEBITES is stereotypical ‘musical theatre,’ and sometimes the belting vocals are too much. There are also moments of cringe, not all of which are intended, however, it’s obvious the cast are extremely talented and they commit to everything 100%. They thrive on playing ‘dress up’ and with each actor given the opportunity to play at least three characters, they all get their time to shine. Even when not the focus of the story, all still contribute to the scene by either providing narration, transforming the set or subtly playing minor characters in the background. Peter Rutherford’s music is beautiful, ranging from upbeat tempos to utterly heart-wrenching ballads. This paired with James Millar’s wonderful lyrics means it’s a show that manages to be hilarious one moment and completely heart-breaking the next.
With LOVEBITES starting to win people over, everyone returns after the interval. Act 2 works parallel to the first act, exploring the same relationships but this time a little further down the line. One story, following a gay couple who want to get married at home in Australia, seems a bit outdated now, as the Australian government approved same-sex marriage last year. However, it’s interesting to see how the other relationships have developed- whether successful or not. Ultimately LOVEBITES centres on relationships that surpass gender, sexual orientation and social norms. It’s a celebration of love and who doesn’t want that? There’s a fine line between love and hate, and after LOVEBITES crowd-pleasing finale (make sure to join in with the sing-along), it’s fair to say many of the audience now side with the former.