Based in Auckland, Thomas Sainsbury is one of New Zealand’s most prolific, and popular playwrights. With more than forty writing credits under his belt, these pieces include ‘Beast’, ‘Cindy And Eric Go To Hell’, ‘The Christmas Monologues’, ‘Crims’, ‘Loser’, ‘The Mall’, ‘The Somnambulist’, and ‘Sunday Roast’. Sainsbury’s stylised tales have been staged locally in his home land, as well as in Australia, the U.S.A and Great Britain.

‘LUV’ is a pitch – black, ninety – minute comedy performed in two fast – paced and involving acts. (It should be noted that the reason for this particular title spelling becomes clear in the play early on.) A tangled snapshot on the pitfalls of modern dating, both reciprocal and unrequited, Mellow Yellow Productions employs an expert team of four to portray sixteen roles in total.

Right off the bat, this quartet introduces the main characters in the spirit of ‘A Chorus Line’ or ‘The Usual Suspects’. It is also a clever hook to get proceedings immediately under way. One by one, the protagonists not only confess their most unpleasant personal and social quirks, each of them details specific physical attributes (and shortcomings) as well.

‘LUV’ consists of four intertwining stories, where contemporary male and female stereotypes are stripped and laid bare under the microscope.  Irrespective of one’s gender or background, the dating game apparently makes sane people pull the craziest stunts. Playfully similar in structure and mood to classic films like Ed Burns’ ‘Sidewalks of New York’ or Robert Altman’s ‘Short Cuts’, here, no one escapes final examination.

The main players driving each component are:

-Gemma (played by Dayna Boase) a single – minded football groupie, intent at all costs to catch herself the league’s star player.

-Jacques (played by Dylan Dunkley) a reality television star wannabe, exploiting his powerful father’s industry connections to pursue a life – long dream.

-Ricki (played by Matthew Powell) a sociopathic stalker, who torments his prey with threatening text messages.

-Michelle (played by Stephanie Tantau), a plastic surgery addict.  When complications make her horribly disfigured, Michelle’s life is left in tatters.

Boase was also responsible for the play’s fluid direction. In her care, the team give Sainsbury’s observational, on – trend, and searing dialogue a fresh, loose and unscripted spontaneity.

Like an extended, improvised theatre sports exercise, Second City or Groundlings skit, it was hard to predict how these segments would pan out. Which, in itself was half the fun. But, watching the actors invest themselves completely in the moment, makes this mad cap journey more than worth the ride.

The team must also be noted for their clear staging choices.

Never once interrupting the narrative, a free – standing black curtained screen was positioned at the rear of the performance space.  Allowing not only for quick costume changes, sometimes a character was introduced (often in seconds) with the same actor using a different accent, simple prop or piece of clothing. Implementing these reference points, meant viewers could concentrate on plot development and character interaction with as little confusion as possible.

The Verve Studios theatre itself is intimate in size. Two clear advantages being, not only are we at one with the action playing out in front of us, access to the space gives the show a special air of exclusivity as well.

Another nice touch was Mellow Yellow’s ‘pay as you feel’ policy.  As my astute plus – one for the evening pointed out, doing this removes any pressure of expectations from either the cast or the audience. Think of it as punters becoming active stakeholders in this exciting new venture instead.

‘LUV’ is playing for a strictly limited run at Verve Studios in the historic Nicholas Building until Saturday, August 13.