Exeunt Magazine

ROMCOM (or the distance love can be maintained between any two diverging points.)


The Gate Theatre, 22nd - 27th April 2013


Between a building, a company, and a curatorial entity, Forest Fringe field has been described by co-director Andy Field as less a brand and more “a kitemark”. This conjuring of regulatory practices sets them at square odds with conventional notions of a uni-directional drive to success, where a company or collective will mature into growth, accruing funds, resources and networks as they phase towards establishment in bright lights. If this is a model that is tawdry in the age of self-branding and semiocapital, Forest Fringe are deep into alternatives, grounded world experiments.

Field has written of the virtues of “smallness”, that power structures are palpably present in any given space, that life is constituted as a series of centres where effects can be wrought, relationships nurtured and overturned. This thoroughly decentralised conception of what is to be a live art or theatre company is not underpinned by hard theory, more a mobile accruing through oblique poetic statements and pin-sharp artistic judgements, and the sense is that the mobile shape of the organisation is inseparable from its encounters and the artists it privileges beyond all other considerations.

And so Forest Fringe is in a continual state of emergence, vaguely stabilised sets of becomings, where the kitemark ensures a certain quality of ideas and practices, where the stamp comes down on a variety of diverse and innovative forms. No clumsy aesthetics. No trash, if trash means an abandonment to the forces that energise hollow. What’s broken is fixed, or broken better. There is some notion of craft which feels less present now. Daniel Kitson would rally as part of the attempt to save their Bristo Place building when it was subsumed by rentiers, calling for “shambolic good to prevail”, Forest Fringe feel caught in a constant struggle for what Richard Brautigan called “dewhimsification”, bearing the micro-goods of care and love, working with pathos and failure, and making difficult articulations, remaking politics on the ground.

In a similar vein the “electronic forest” is opposed to the “electronic frontier”, that dusty trope that pushed east from California through post-industrial society, that still serves up narratives of hope - that while everything else in the global West succumbs to shit, technologies will continue to deliver progress. Futures are divined through early-adopter diagrams, and through the brilliant opaqueness of Google glass we might not have to see the jobseekers queues. A forest is what the frontier consumes in fire in the name of progress, but it’s the forest that persists and returns. This is no dark age or ruritanian longing, the forest flowers in the hearts of our cities and the “electronic forest” pricks at the bleeding edge just as it shears-off consumer capital’s teleology. It is psychedelic and partly undiscoverable. Its bugs are its features. It facilitates as much as shelters our networks through the dark times. It’s an idea.

As Andrew Haydon wrote about the first residency at the Gate last year: “It’s interesting … to see FF able to present itself without the adversity, or at the very least necessity, of which it has been making a virtue, if not an aesthetic, for so long”. When it is precisely adversity that is becoming the general prognosis not just for theatre but for entire western societies as crisis melts into long rolling waves of economic decline, Forest Fringe’s necessity feels ever more necessary. They produce unmeasurable culture and it makes radiant flowers out of circuit boards. They act as if recovery is not possible, because for them there is nothing to recover, culture is always already at hand.

by Daniel B. Yates



Love begins when something impossible is overcome.

At the beginning of the film the robot is always unblinking eyes and blank sentences. Empty and impassive, expressionless, uncomfortably still, it stands in the corner of darkened rooms. It fails to understand our idiosyncratic expressions and our emotion-buffeted decisions. It talks only to communicate. It moves with poised efficiency. It stares because it has no other way of looking.

And then something happens.

There is a glitch or perhaps a short circuit; a charge of hot blood through insulated wires. Normally this is a consequence of something ineffably human; a joke, or a naive question, loss, sadness or a child who refuses, despite all the lectures from his or her parents, to believe that the robot is just an object. In that moment, what before was hollow stillness becomes suddenly a pregnant pause. Cheeks flush invisibly with colour. Cogs whir out of their bearings. The robot has become something more than a robot.

We like these moments in films because they invite us to believe that life is almost unbearably powerful. We can imagine life will always expand to fill a vacuum and in doing so we dream that life is someone essential and integral, at the centre of the universe bleeding forever outwards and carrying with it all the mess and chaos and beauty and irrationality and longing that we associate with it. All those things that can’t be programmed or predicted.

We want to show the robot a flower, or tell it a joke, or make it look after our children, or fall in love with it. And when we do, we imagine that we’ll see in the barely-definable transformation in the backs of its eyes and the corners of its mouth something that looks a little like god.

A formula for love

In Ant Hampton and Glen Neath’s ROMCOM the story’s unnamed man attempts to create a formula for love based on the distance it can be maintained between two points that are forever diverging. It is sad and it is charming because it makes a lot of sense to us. We want to understand love, to rationalise it, because maybe by understanding it we can control it or at least insulate ourselves from its worst excesses. But this hopeless attempt is also tragic, because we know that love cannot ever be reduced to a formula. We know that as Alan Badiou states, love really only begins after something impossible has been overcome; it can only inhabit the things we won’t ever understand.

ROMCOM itself isn’t quite a formula for understanding love, but it might be a computer programme for producing it. ROMCOM is wires and cables, complicated lines of code, borrowed phrases, electrical impulses, imported scenarios, a network of words and pictures. Three ipods begin playing simultaneously. One contains the lines and instructions for a male performer, another the same for a female performer, and the third connects to a projector that both provides the show’s sequence of backdrops and lights the performers and the stage, as well supplying the show’s soundtrack. The ipods play for 52 minutes exactly and then the show is over.

In that 52 minutes this deliberately sleek and faceless theatre machine whirs into life, a robot, like so many Hollywood robots, trying to understand love. It recycles and represents over-familiar lines and formulaic scenarios, interactions that remind us of old films and terrible relationships. It is an automated attempt to manufacture the impossible. An internet search engine trying to understand a metaphor. Several hundred lines of text desperately trying to pass the Turing test.

And on its own of course it would fail, but crucially, plugged right into the middle of this system like a pair of AA batteries, there are two unrehearsed performers.

Two batteries falling in love

For the performers, ROMCOM often seems like an impossible challenge. Flooded with nerves and adrenalin, stood in the blinding light of the projector and uncertain what’s going on, the performers listen and repeat phrases without any notion of context, often incapable of hearing the answers, firing sentences at the other performer like lines of computer code rather than fragments of a conversation, like performing Romeo and Juliet on Guitar Hero. They stand in front of backgrounds they can’t see, unsure of what’s coming next, equally uncertain about anything that has previously happened. They mishear lines, or they don’t have time to say them, they are deliberately holding too many props, actors lost in a forest of instructions and misdirections, barely able to find their own characters let alone that of the person standing across from them.

Yet it is this very impossibility that makes it so breathtakingly beautiful when these conditions are overcome and something true appears to break the surface. Every night, whatever the struggles, the shortcomings, the technical difficulties, there are moments when the two performers spontaneously and unexpectedly find themselves suddenly connected. An overcoming of difference so miraculous it could, perhaps should, be described as love.

I saw six nights of ROMCOM with twelve different performers, but in my mind they exist best as one long piece, the batteries replaced regularly for fear of exhausting them. And whilst the apparatus never changed, each night produced its own unlikely scattering of fleeting looks and unintentionally synchronous movements, a quiet trickle of lines that that flaring up suddenly with feeling, two bodies briefly leaning into each other, a hand on an arm or a head buried in someone else’s hair. Moments pregnant with vulnerability and uncertaintiy, with understanding and tenderness, moments that are so unpredictable, unscheduled, improbable they do more than describe love they embody it. In these moments the robot is no longer a robot and we can believe briefly in something transcendental.

And perhaps in this way ROMCOM is able to describe something really important about what I find myself looking for in all theatre. By foregrounding the machinery of live performance and the artificiality of its mechanisms, it reveals theatre to be a heartbreakingly futile but inspiringly hopeful attempt to produce real love from a network of preposterous contrivances.


Gertrude Stein experienced a particular kind of discomfort in the theatre. What bothered her was what she called theatre’s “syncopated time”: “This that the thing seen and the thing felt about the thing seen not going on at the same tempo is what makes the being at the theatre something that makes anybody nervous”. At any one time in the experience of live performance, different mental processes are taking place at once, each at a slightly different pace.

In Romcom, this sensation of being out of sync, this simultaneity and slippage of intellectual functions, is heightened to an extent that would see Stein bolting for the door. Each of the two unrehearsed performers – Karen Christopher and Neil Callaghan on the first night – scrabbles to follow the instructions pumped into their headphones while at the same time speaking the lines being fed to them, a process mirrored by their on stage counterpart as the pair slip in and out of a shared rhythm. Lines are lost or spoken over one another, questions and answers like tracks on separate records.

The effect, contained within a narrative that riffs on the hamstrung conventions of the genre it references in its title, is of two individuals desperately out of sync with one another. They go through the familiar motions of romance and heartbreak, zipping through plot points such as the first meeting and “getting to know each other”, but along separate tracks rather than together. In this sense, the parenthesis after the show’s title – “the distance love can be maintained between any two diverging points” – is deeply apt. Just as the format sets its performers up to fail, sure enough delivering fluffed lines and in Christopher’s case the odd irrepressible hint of a laugh, this is a love story that is broken, pointing to a wider break in how we understand love itself.

The fractured form of Romcom, flowing linearly but in broken splinters of scenes, is a fitting prelude for the two fragments subsequently shown by Callaghan and Christopher. Callaghan’s solo piece A Certain Shaft of Light, a marriage of text, dance and candlelight, is quietly exquisite, full of all the tenderness that is sadly absent from the nominal romance of Romcom. As an arrangement of fragile, twinkling tea-lights stand in for the constellation of the Plough, Callaghan’s body rocks as if cradled by waves, his delicate, spinning form eventually whirling to a stop with a finger pointed at the North Star – navigation as art.

From one set of waves to another, as Christopher’s work-in-progress, Long waves begin to form, spins stories around the wind. Combining found, recovered and original material, like a scattering of leaves thrown up by the breeze and gathered messily together, this collection of texts forms a meditation on invisible forces. You can’t see the wind, you can only see its effects. Alongside the anecdotes, poems and weather reports, there are small but charming images; a paper kite fluttering in the breeze from a fan, a handkerchief propelled into the air by Christopher’s breath, falling gently back down. While still forming, the piece creates the sense that, invisible as the wind might be, it – like the desperately quoting, simulated intimacy of Romcom – leaves its trace in words.

by Catherine Love


Much like the genre it takes its name from, Romcom is first and foremost a planned out, timed and irreversible structure, where the only variable are the first billed actors. This however is a boy meets girl story that goes so far as to see the boy and girl graduate first to marriage, then to divorce and then to the silent realisation that they’ve spent a tad too much time paired up, to retrain as singletons. The mood is altogether much more somber than in a Meg & Tom film and the words are poetic rather than blunt. Regardless, the basic mechanism of a rom-com is still very much the backbone of this piece – instead of a recycled script, boy and girl are given a pair of headphones that issue clear instructions on what to do and say; another ‘device’ controls the projector (the only source of light) and sounds. The premise is that it’s impossible not to inadvertently go off book; the narrative may stay the same but its style or atmosphere will change depending on who’s following the orders from the headphones. In theory, Romcom is a promising exploration on individuality in a controlled environment and a statement about how it’s not just romantic films, but maybe even the romantic reality that’s slightly predetermined.

On Tuesday Romcom pairs up Ira Glass and Chris Bailey; their lines come out flat and serious, as if to underline the genre subversion at play here, and with full confidence in the machinery behind the piece that will inevitably lead on. Besides making this observation however, it’s difficult to reflect on the piece: both its nature and the curating approach suggest this might only be possible when different renditions are compared. Nevertheless the aftermath of Romcomleaves the room with a context from which to see the pieces that follow.

With that in mind, the effect of Brand and Bailey jumping from their subdued romance, into their respective pieces, The Nearest Exit and This Machine Won’t Kill Fascists, But It Might Get You Laid is a bit like watching a rom-com turn a surprising corner and morph into Blue Valentine. Bailey’s contribution, whose name sardonically references all the clones of Woody Guthrie’s sticker, is a piece for four out of tune guitars, performed by four neatly dressed up men - it’s a chaotic, yet strangely rhythmical and catchy composition, whose loudness, rather than content, make it a painful listen, and judging by the band’s faces, a performance endurance exercise. This Machine Won’t Kill... gives the impression of a controlled explosion; a mountain of built up tension that’s been saved for these twenty minutes of intelligent math-punk-rock noise.

Settled in between this musical punching machine and Romcom, Ira Brand’s piece, developed during a Rules and Regs residency, sits as a bridge between everyday dramatics and nuclear disasters. The Nearest Exit focuses on the modern, universal fear of flying - or to be more precise, of collapsing into sure death trapped in a giant tin. Divided in two-minute intervals, to signpost the time passengers usually have from realisation to the crash, this performance is a collection of glimpses into airplane-disaster associations. They include Brand crawling over the stage, practicing a safe exit in the event of fire, calling someone to say goodbye, reading out the names of sole survivors (a list that’s simultaneously hope and horror provoking), but also dancing out to The Knife, downing a bottle of spirit, as well as poetic monologues reflecting on the trip to and from the residency. The etudes that address the fear of this statistically unlikely but universally feared death show signs of both panic-stricken obsessiveness and a thorough but cold information analysis; the more personal scenes remain, for the most part, indirect enough to strike a chord without necessarily going into autobiographical details. Together, they make up a patchwork that unarms the flying-monster, only to reinstate it, as fact and feelings fight it out for supremacy.

by Bojana Jankovic


Is this even acting?
What is this?

It might be the purest kind of acting, strung up in the immediate excess of what it is to interpret a text - way too raw to feel the way it’s supposed to feel, and indeed there is no supposed to feel, there’s no script meetings and the actor never prepares. Meet a comedian on civvy street, ask them to tell you a joke. Romcom is telling actor and tell them to “do an act”, over and over again. Do an act. Do a react, to the text and to the other person. Triangulate that you fucker. Acting is pre and post-processing; this is flashing RAM, streams barely choate raw processing power.

But there’s another kind of purity in the way it kicks the foreshadowing of text into the foreground, subjecting the present to its predetermination - a live experiment in pinning down each possibility at each turn, actors huddled together like rats in a narrative maze where somewhere above/below/within the test results are being calmly fabricated.

And the text is just like this fucking elephant that’s loosely wandered into the room, no one’s ever spoken about it and now it’s too late, and it pushes all the air out of the room so that the need to be doing something beyond text becomes absolutely crucial, and in that surfeit everything begins to crack with this thousand tonne freedom.

A definite aesthetic comes out of this Random Access Memory theatre, a sort of uncanny naturalism - like if you’d chopped together all the moments of awkward miscommunication, these crucial little elisions where meaning has deviated from the shared script and something is lost, because the script isn’t shared beforehand, and it kind of runs away, and in a sense everything that matters here is deviation from the script.

The projections visually tow all this predetermination, mundane hip, the pscyhedlia of rain drops down windows, wintry bucolics, fuck-off slaps and dashes like a mumblecore street scene, hard abstract stripes which lazily rotate and engulf to a hard ping. It’s like staring at a narrative painting, or watching some kind of live indie flick, as much as it is theatre joyfully gobbling itself like a slippery Ouroboros.

Season Butler plays it like an Antonioni. It doesn't matter that everything has always already happened, what matters is mustering the style like hard chrome to bend around the gaps and the threatening emptiness. She conveys how kind of sumptuous it is to be scripted, disaffection through style, the slack-jawed dislocution becomes a kind of narcissism. She demands at volume, at the same time she checks-out of it all in a way that becomes almost holy, like there’s this secret to not-caring and she doesn’t care if it’s shared or not.

This bounces off Nigel Barratt’s look of frozen surprise which is a note-perfect drone. Not so much icy as just acres of masculine tundra. In the perpetual dramatised gap between reception and action he finds a quiet breakdown. On the screen behind him a goat with its anus prortuding to the heavens wallows in the long grass, and there is some echo of the absurdism Barratt squeezes out, his character ever-ready for nothing, finding this strange broken space of curiosity beyond boredom and anxiety. His beard turns sad upon his ludicrous red blouson and tiny shorts, pop-eyed and dislocated, he looks like someone 3D printed a garden gnome using source code for a taser. Really, it’s a well-constructed look.

So we say "I love you" and its been said before, and how do we even connect with that. This endless system of hidden quotations we call the language of love. A game of subterfuge with no fucking surprises. And yet we do, and there are. Somehow there is always the excess. The Beatles song "Yesterday" is sung out of tune, it comes in before it should, too late or too early, it doesn’t matter as long as it was sung.

by Daniel B. Yates


As it turns out, Romcom is individuality-resistant, and the piece stays surprisingly unchanged even when the somberness of Brand and Bailey is replaced by the slightly more humour oriented approach of Thom Tuck and Caroline Williams. Tuck and Williams, a stand-up comedian and a theatre maker whose work embraces overtness and direct address, both take every opportunity for comic exaggerations and easy laughs; their relationship is full of seemingly inconsequential bickering, talk-downs and cuddly affections taken for granted. Romcom however simply sucks these half-made characters in and when they emerge on the other side the afterthoughts are the same as two days before. The slow decline of the love story is inevitable, the images projected behind it stay the same and both the plot and the script are so tight they leave very little to performers’ interpretation. Even when occasional timing mistakes happenRomcom tramples over them, thus effectively pronouncing human contribution to be irrelevant - not in a contemplative, we are all just cogs way, but dramaturgically. With two couples of completely different sensibilities creating the same piece, it becomes difficult to avoid wondering if it wouldn’t be more interesting to see this narrative fighting against a well acquainted and prepared pair, instead of relative strangers who know nothing about it. Somewhere in the no man's land between programmed sequences and live performances, Romcom fails to negotiate any balance between set and improvised elements; in doing that it becomes a structure that benefits only slightly from a conveyor belt of performers that turn into subtle reminders of Craig’s ideas.

In contrast to the Brand/Bailey duo, Caroline Williams and Thom Tuck compensate for any failed expectations a jittery audience might have after the bitterness of Romcom. Both Ich bin ein, no thanks and Thom Tuck Goes Straight to DVD are for all intents and purposes actual rom-coms - although they fit far better with Chasing Amy than You’ve Got Mail. Tuck’s piece has already found its way to a Radio 4 series; his escapades of failed romances sit next to the underground world of the not-for-theatrical-release Disney films (gems include Lion King 3 and Little Mermaid 2). The premise is as self-deprecating as stand-up gets, and as hilarious as such windows into personal embarrassments can be - but more interestingly it’s a clever contraption that subverts both theatre and stand-up cannons. Williams on the other hand, shares her starting point with many a rom-com; this work in progress show is about a girl recently dumped by a boy who left her to chase the Berlin dream and become a painter. This mix of hipster iconics and post-break up entics - along the lines of adopting mascara stains as a permanent fixture - gives the piece a twist that all good rom-coms have. At this stage the performance comes with both I Will Survive sing-alongs and fragmented monologues, and it’s the former that eats up all the attention; it might be some battle to keep the more ‘serious’ sections in true contention against the ritual burning of ex’s possessions. This however might be sorely needed if Williams is to avoid the trap of making a funny but possibly forgettable piece. Then again, isn’t that what the joy of making a good rom-com is all about?

by Bojana Jankovic


This is a tragedy. The whole relationship is doomed from the off, anyone could’ve told them that. If this was an OK Cupid hookup they could probably sue for emotional damages by algorithm. It’s some category-error made in pencil then over-written in pen, scored in over and over again, as if just repeating it could make it more right, but it just becomes more a mess and just as incommensurable.

It’s like anti-jazz, incorporating its mistakes and repeating them but they remain indelibly mistaken. It’s like not believing in scientific paradigms, thinking that progress can be infinitely built on past errors. This is the error in the code, and the thing proliferates around that error, and everything is broken.

And it’s sad the way it’s doomed. Not metal, or fire or some elemental fucked-upness, that’s almost impossible given the circumstances. This is a halting retrospective doom. It’s a slow-motion unfolding car crash, and the bonnet is silently cartwheeling in the air and you can make out the serial number. And you’re sitting on the verge thinking “wow, love is just, wow.”

Jess Latowicki’s character doesn’t want a part of this. “I have an excellent backhand cross-court smash” comes as a moment of disclosure, it’s giving something to this guy she’s arrived nowhere with. Sam Booth’s is a pugilist, holding forth as the script abandons him. His self-assuredness is built on nothing at all, and heavy-footed it flips to anger at himself. The disconnect between the two is profoundly unnerving, it’s beautiful as this sort of testament to possibility of being together at any cost. IT’S BETTER TO KEEP YOUR DREAMS TO YOURSELF flashes up on the projection. This one made my heart ache for all the non-reasons we get together.

by Daniel B Yates


On second viewing, there’s a doubled sense of familiarity in Romcom’s hollowed out dialogue and stunted interactions. We’ve been here before. Having seen the piece once, it’s hard not to view the whole thing as an inexorable downward slide, casting an aspect of inevitability on the scenes that may or may not have been inbuilt – it’s hard to tell with the burden of retrospect.

This familiarity stretches beyond the simple dialogue and actions that structure the show. Despite the idiosyncrasies of each performer – Lucy Ellinson offers a sad, round-eyed awkwardness in contrast to Karen Christopher’s half-smiling irony, while Chris Thorpe brings gruff humour where Neil Callaghan radiated a gentle sense of despair – the overarching tone of the piece remains remarkably consistent. Returning to the show expecting to encounter something markedly different, it’s instead the similarities I note; the cynicism, the broken synchronicity, the underlying note of bleakness.

This lack of true flexibility within what looks like a fluid structure perhaps points to the socially determined, culturally influenced codes within which intimacy is tightly confined. This restriction, however, does detract a little from the appealing variation that the form promises. Love, Romcom’s male character proposes, can only exist when three things are present: “you, me, and our close proximity to one another”. The show itself requires a similar set of conditions: the two unrehearsed performers, their co-presence on stage, the existence of an audience to watch them. What’s most striking about it, though, is the dispensability of the “you” and the “me”. While the four performers I see in the piece are all undoubtedly enjoyable to watch, their own interpretations have a distinctly limited impact on the overall shape – which in itself might make a point about the diluted romance of the genre being played with.

The shifting emotional tenor of Romcom, which despite the promise of comedy in its title is just as often crushingly depressing, extends into the second half.In Case of Emergencies, a nascent writing collaboration between Thorpe and Forest Fringe co-director Andy Field, veers from gentle insight to black hilarity as it catalogues the escalating scrapes of childhood – a head stuck between railings, a bike out of control, a confrontation on a bus – and what to do when encountering these unfortunate situations. Thorpe’s advice in the event of cycling accident is particularly memorable, blending the grimace of pain with the breathless gasp of laughter.

This is followed by a rapid gear change into the decidedly dark, as an extract from Thorpe’s new piece of writing painfully dissects extremism and the mechanics of power. Performed by Thorpe and Ellinson, the two sections we hear – taken from a piece written for a series of voices – reveal themselves in an unsettling, creeping fashion, their interlaced structure tantalisingly delaying their bitter revelations. Staring unflinchingly at the motives behind oppression and mass murder, where we end the evening could not be much further from the sugary clichés characterising the genre that provides its starting point.

by Catherine Love


I am sitting down to watch Romcom the night after I have performed it. Season Butler and Nigel Barrett are standing on stage, waiting to have their bodies and headphones plugged into the show.

I am excited to see the work as an audience member. Being inside the piece, it is almost impossible to keep track of your co-performer, or of the narrative that the two of you are enacting. You are so focused on each individual moment, on listening to the words in your ear, on trying to accurately follow the instructions given to you. You are aware that there is projection behind you, that there is sometimes music, that another person has just said or done something on the stage, that you have just said something that you have already forgotten.

I am expecting a sort of penny-drop moment, or a succession of them, where things I vaguely recall doing and saying will be illuminated within the context of the show as a whole. But I’m surprised to find that watching it, it doesn’t make as much “sense” (in a linear or narrative way) as I had assumed it would. It feels like maybe we were doing something different on the stage than I had thought we were.

The narrative is essentially a skeleton. Generic scenes, familiar from our own lives or any number of films or stories, it feels like they are almost just place-holders for us to imagine our own versions. We don’t need to see the whole scene to get what is going on – we don’t even need to imagine them, actually, they function as short-cuts to an understanding.

Having the two performers unrehearsed and prompted by recordings through their headphones is an effective device for the narrative of a relationship breaking down, of it “not working”. Sometimes they speak over each other, sometimes there are long pauses, sometimes their conversation seems totally nonsensical. And my interpretation whilst watching it is very much that what they are doing is supposed to “not work”, though interestingly I hadn’t thought this whilst I was performing it. This feels important, that the performers’ intentions are sort of honest, trying to accurately follow instructions, to do it “right”. A relationship where you keep trying to do it right and it continues to be wrong.

If Romcom is about the failure to communicate or an incompatibility – the two performers perpetually just a tad out of sync, or tonally missing the mark – then for me the real joy of this is in the slippages and screw-ups beyond those already offered by the premise. The moment where somebody has missed a cue, misheard an instruction, or delivered a line completely incongruously. The fleeting vulnerability or look of panic on the performers’ faces as they try their hardest to be in some way “true” to the show.



‘The story in 'ROMCOM (or, the Distance Love Can Be Maintained Between Any Two Diverging Points)’ by Ant Hampton and Glen Neath is easy: a man and a woman meet up, fall in love, get married, lose parents, get divorced and then can't stay alone. Contemporary biographies, relationships, family situations experienced by everyone in one way or the other. Nothing special, not extraordinary. There's a lethargical beauty, a certain melancholy; sometimes funny sometimes sad. The enormous quality of the text by Glen Neath lies in its openness and fragmentary form. A couple of lines are enough to tell a life and to scratch an experience both the actors on stage and the audience are able to relate to spontaneously. And that's what they are asked for. The set is easy, too. A male and a female actor meet for the first time on stage. They put on the headphones and act via prompts from a CD. A video projection is the only light source. Nothing is rehearsed. The very tight and fixed form of the show is repressive for the actors: they are bound to the path of the recording. The handicap is that the show would run on even if they would drop out. The peculiar situation of the actor in Romcom is that they are spectator and performer at the same time. The audience knows precisely as much about the show as the performers do. Theatre is an unstable situation in any case. In Romcom the tension of the show results from these two extremes: on the one hand, everything is prerecorded on electronic media. A strict form where nothing can be changed. The stage situation on the other hand is completely opposite: nothing is secure, nothing to rely on. Thinking about this - again very simplistic - performance strategy in relation to the story told in the show, the show turns into an uneasy and uncomfortable experience on the way we live in relationships: the story is set, it's experienced innumerable times and even if it fails badly, it's fragile in every moment’ - Thomas Frank


‘They crash against one another, blundering through a script which would seem opaque on paper but becomes extraordinarily fecund, open ended and contradictory. Waves colliding with the cliffs. I saw three ROMCOM’s, each entirely unique, the stars aligning at different points, moments getting totally lost and the resonance in certain pockets being born of total chance - pomegranate pip instants of delightful improvisation and the potential of language to mean different things in different mouths . Glen Neath sat with his head in his hands on the edge of his seat with no idea what would unfold from what he had pre-ordained.

It is an easy and satisfying to associate ROMCOM’s removal of agency with the power of love – alongside rage, the emotion in which we are the most blind and powerless. More troubling and touching is the schism that arises between the inexorable and the unpredictable. When I watched ROMCOM(s) I laughed but in hindsight it makes me sad. The implied meaninglessness rendered from a loss of control, as though all life was spent fumbling in a dark room, injuring one another without realising, missing the mark, growing apart without being able to explain why or when you’ve stopped loving someone. Everything hinges around infinite, miniscule variables. ROMCOM whispers with regret for miscommunication and failed expression. Our language is clumsy. We are blunt. Forlorn is a sadder word than distraught.’- Rosemary Wagg (blog) Full review here


‘Resembles one of Godard's 1960's movies, full of jump-cut montages between close-ups of blankeyed lovers and excursions into heavily captioned symbolism. And, as well as comedy, it's a complex study of compatibility and communication’ - Glasgow Herald Full review here