How to Fall in Love is described as “a performative love affair, a date, and a promenade performance through the streets of Liverpool”. And it stars you, the audience member, as much as the theatre company that devised it.
Those who signed up to see the show at various slots during each evening were split into twos – couples of strangers – given a bag of presents and cards to be opened at specific times, plus a map, and shoved out of the Unity and onto the streets to get to know one another better. If that sounds a little scary and maybe a little uncomfortable, well yes, it was. But those whose curiosity was piqued by this imaginative, strange and beautiful little show would have been treated to a very special experience indeed.
Along the way, the couples met members of RAWD, a company of actors with learning disabilities, who enhanced the ‘romantic’ evening as the ‘date’ of the audience members progressed, accompanied by some familiar city actors. RAWD is run by the guys comedy audiences might know as Random Acts of Wildness, and this show involved a number of their associates too. The show was developed by the company with the artist Tim Jeeves.
At the bombed out church, we met a couple on their wedding day, ghosts perhaps, with memories of the church before the war. They told us they were from 1941, and waiting for the chance of their own big day as back then people with learning disabilities couldn’t get married. Ten minutes in and we were already genuinely choked up.
The cards suggested topics to talk to each other about as we moved on to the Chinese Arch to signify the fun of a romantic holiday, and there met some hilarious street artists who drew our picture, a highlight of what was already becoming an extraordinary show. After that, we were urged to learn about each others’ annoying habits as we made our way to Colquitt Street, where a therapist was waiting to solve our problems.
The show concluded at the 81 Renshaw Street cafe, with a glass of wine and a trip to the theatre. With the audience back as a group, the remaining members of the cast performed an utterly charming piece of clowning – complete with soda siphon – that turned into an incredibly touching tale of love and family.
This kind of immersive and participatory theatre isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it would be impossible not to be impressed and moved by this funny, moving, thought-provoking and silly show. There was something very special indeed about How to Fall in Love. Technically, it was still having teething troubles; the timing of the tours could have run more smoothly, and the ‘treasure hunt’ element was fun but a bit of a faff at times. However, any time spent with the cast – a incredibly charming and capable bunch – melted all of that away.
The show was devised with love and care and an understanding of the performers’ strengths. The closeness and the respect among the company as a whole, disabled and non-disabled, made for a welcoming and warm environment that put everyone at ease. For the audience, it gave a chance to meet talented actors with learning disabilities and, if it was not something we were used to, gave us a chance to discover our similarities rather than differences, especially on issues of love, relationships and romance. On a budget of next to nothing, RAWD created something that gave a chance for everyone who took part to see life a little differently for a little while. And on all those counts, it made the show one of the most joyous, positive and big-hearted pieces of theatre – art – an audience could be lucky enough to see.
Not many people will have a chance to see How to Fall in Love; but it’s a fair assumption none of them will ever forget it. Here’s the picture of me and my date for the evening Geoff: