By Bec Johnston
The contemporary audience often maintains a one-sided and undeviating relationship with the art they choose to consume. With the advent of on-demand streaming, indulging in movies and even stage performances from the comfort of the living room has become an activity as enticing, if not more so, than a night out on the town. However, there are inherent limitations to this approach, and some experiences cannot be fully embraced without venturing into the unknown and embracing a touch of risk in pursuit of a grand reward. ‘Love Lust Lost’ beckons you to test your mettle, but will you heed the captain’s call?
This immediacy of live performance, especially the type of choose-your-own-adventure immersion famously employed by Punchdrunk’s New York installation, ‘Sleep No More,’ offers a deep well that can be reliably drawn upon to attract only the most intrepid of theatregoers. The team at Broad Encounters is no stranger to such large-scale projects, having previously staged the mesmerising Poe love letter ‘A Midnight Visit,’ which spanned an impressive 36 rooms in North Melbourne back in 2019.
‘Love Lust Lost’ drops anchor at the historic Austral Theatre in Collingwood, Melbourne in September 2023. It promises an immersive experience that serves as a reminder of the entirely unique and visceral nature of witnessing a performer drenched in sweat just metres away – to feel the electric crackle in the air when a skilled and dedicated ensemble gives their all to a production that demands they spin countless plates, never once breaking character as they navigate whatever the general public throws their way. This is an experience that cannot be distilled through the lens of a phone screen; it demands to be lived as a carefully crafted world extends its neon tentacles out to embrace you.
The thematic elements of the space constitute an absolute visual feast, with meticulous attention paid to costumes and props. A particularly standout moment involves a hymn book passed around during the climax, directing you to chant along to some poignant 2000s pop. With every corner of the Austral Theatre lovingly and painstakingly transformed into a nautical wonderland, it becomes irresistibly easy to get swept up in the magic.
Before entering, we are informed that the once-glorious Johnston St venue will sadly be demolished shortly after the show’s run, much like the ill-fated Titanic met its iceberg. This foreknowledge infuses the setting with a profound sense of reverence and renewed appreciation for a space that few have laid eyes on since the 1950s. As we don our rain ponchos and navigate an elaborate set, it feels like an exhilarating and fitting farewell to an impressive venue.
The cast of ‘Love Lust Lost’ have their work cut out for them, and they deliver in spades. The company seamlessly melds elements of aerial circus, dance, singing, and instrumental skill to create a series of hypnotic vignettes. The nature of this production means it’s impossible to see all scenes in a single visit, which may prompt dedicated seafarers to consider attending a second or even third time.
The narrative threads its way through the muttered words of mutineers, the stumbling captain who clings to walls and cries out for his daughter. These scraps of story are instrumental in piecing together a coherent throughline by the time you are ushered into the final room for the musical denouement, but you could be forgiven for blinking and missing many of the details. Still, the finale is daring, rousing, and set to some great song choices. The inspirations for this work were many and varied, and the ultimate result is a wondrous melting pot of genres and styles that make Love Lust Lost a joyously unpretentious and accessible work for anyone with the curiosity and courage to try something new.
Broad Encounters asks you to sink or swim in the depths of the Austral on Johnston St in Collingwood this September.
Image: Jess Busby