Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

05/03/2008 - 09/03/2008

BATS Theatre, Wellington

22/07/2008 - 26/07/2008

Production Details

"I Just Feel It In My Body"

Following close on the heels of the December 2007 season of LOSER, LUV, the new play by Auckland playwright Thomas Sainsbury, offers his characteristic black comedy but this time featuring drunken league players and those determined to take advantage of them.

Starring Todd Emerson (The World’s Fastest Indian), Stephen Fitzgibbon (LOSER), Hannah Marshall (Shortland Street) and Morgana O’Reilly (Bare), LUV delicately trips through Auckland’s burgeoning subcultures, dragging the audience through the torrid worlds of reality television, plastic surgery obsession and difficult textual relations.

LUV opens the new theatre season at the Basement Theatre, the site of the old Silo. Tickets are available on the door and are $15.

At the Basement Theatre (nee Silo), Lower Greys Ave
Opens March 5th
Runs March 5th – 9th

Jacque: Todd Emerson
Ricki: Stephen Fitzgibbon
Gemma: Morgana O'Reilly
Michelle: Hannah Marshall

Art Design/Costumes: Kristin Malcolm

1hr 30 mins, no interval

Original voice

Review by Lynn Freeman 01st Aug 2008

Thomas Sainsbury is one of the busiest young playwrights in the business – not only writing for the stage but also now directing his own work. 

His sense of humour is on the dark side, his dialogue not for those sensitive to swearing and his characters are people under intense stress.

I’m guessing Luv is an earlier work. It’s not as tight as The Mall, though both are too long, even with Sainsbury as the director keeping the cast moving.

The Mall, length aside, is a well imagined and crafted script which is enhanced by the cast, who never slip out of character even when they’re scooping ice creams or writing in the background.
Todd Emerson, Samuel Bowen Partridge, Lara Fischel-Chisholm, Morgana O’Reilley, Benedict Wall and Kate Simmonds epitomise ensemble acting, and the way they flow in and out of very different characters is remarkable.

We meet the disaffected, the lost and the supercilious, and you just know it’s all going to end badly when a bullied cinema employee meets a clearly deranged woman in the food court.

Luv is, as mentioned, more problematic.  Like Mall, there are interlocking stories, this time of a beautiful woman disfigured by a shonky plastic surgeon, a brattish gay exploiting his father’s TV job to bully producers into making him the star of his own reality show, a sluttish woman obsessed by a sports star and a love-forsaken psycho in search of a relationship.

Communication via texting, facebook and email leads to miscommunication, lovers are fair-weather, and the cult of celebrity is exposed. But these characters and their situations just don’t seem real and it’s hard to care for any of them, except perhaps, at the last, the psycho.

While these two plays are too long, Sainsbury has a great ear for dialogue and his characters, love ’em or loathe ’em, are intriguing. Sainsbury’s is an original voice, tapping into the youth scene with his scenarios. But there’s plenty for an older audience to enjoy at the same time.


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Dark comedies of our time

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 24th Jul 2008

The Mall and Luv (not to be confused with Murray Schisgal’s 1960s play with the same title) are two new plays that are dark, dark comedies about modern life. The Mall attacks the capitalistic system that is indifferent to the plight of its workers and Luv reveals the shallowness of modern relationships between people trapped in a world of surfaces.

The Mall looks at the lives of the workers in the ubiquitous shopping factories that we take for granted in our towns and cities and compares the workers to battery hens. The shop assistants, the managers and the supervisors display patterns of obsessive and violent behaviour towards each other because of boredom and the pointlessness of the work, the lack of freedom and the daily grind.

Luv looks at the lives of shallow and largely unpleasant young people and their search for love, fame and beauty in all the wrong ways and they learn that continual cosmetic surgery doesn’t create beauty, a gay reality TV show won’t bring either love or fame, and an obsessive desire only leads to death.

Both plays are structured cinematically: short scenes instantly cutting back and forth amongst three or four plots that are loosely linked, and with each actor playing a number of roles. Humorous monologues and duologues predominate though there are scenes when more than two characters appear in a scene together.

Both plays use minimum scenery, props, and sound effects which are either recorded or provided by the actors on stage (most effective in final apocalyptic scene of The Mall). Thomas Sainsbury keeps the action flowing smoothly and swiftly through both plays.

His actors are, without exception, absolutely in tune with their stereotypical characters and they are able to switch roles and accents (the unnamed mall has a multi-racial workforce) with ease and they balance the comedy with the darkness convincingly and deftly.

Samuel Bowen Partridge, for example, as Dean, the bored out-of-his-mind ice cream and pop corn attendant at the Mall’s cinema, makes the readings from his diary that he keeps funny, touching and viciously angry, while Hannah Marshall in Luv is able to make the desire for yet more cosmetic surgery amusing in an Absolutely Fabulous sort of way and the outcome of the surgery poignant.

The plays, despite both being a mite too long, reveal the sharp, distinctive voice of a playwright with something to say and saying it with a theatrical flair that is refreshing and stimulating.


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Stand-out performances, never less than impressive

Review by John Smythe 23rd Jul 2008

This is the same production that premiered in Auckland in March this year (see Nik Smythe’s review) and it stands out as a brilliant display of multi-character ensemble acting in another quintessential Thomas Sainsbury black comedy, produced on a miniscule budget.

Ricky (Stephen Fitzgibbon) kicks off as the hyper Ricky who stalks – by text then in the flesh – Michelle ( Hannah Marshall) who is addicted to plastic surgery at the behest of her fiancé Vince (Todd Emerson). When her preferred surgeon (Morgana O’Reilly) draws the line at further enhancements before the current ones heal, they head for the back streets …

Also playing Gays on Laptops are Emerson (as the mean, tormenting one) and Fitzgibbon (as the gullible one; didn’t catch their names – it really would help if the programme listed them). They cruise a chat room in search of hot anonymous cyber sex or even maybe the real thing … Or does one really just go there to "laugh at the desperadoes"? 

Meanwhile at the Pony Club with her girlfriend (Marshall), football groupie Gemma (O’Reilly) harasses celebrity League star Tobias Winstanley (Emerson) and is obliged to put out for ‘The Boys’ (Fitzgibbon and Marshall). Her mother (Marshall) is a scary go-getter too, desperate for her daughter to score a trophy husband despite Tobias already having a fiancée.  

Then there is Jacque (Emerson), the son of a rich Television mogul whose dream is to have his own Reality Show, following his personal quest for true love … O’Reilly and Marshall do a wicked double act as the hand-holding digi-cam TV producers obliged to indulge their boss’s brat.

Jacque is a fair-weather friend of Michelle’s who, like Vince, abandons her when her life turns ugly. But Ricky, her ex flatmate and previous wannabe lover, does hang about somewhat … In fact it is a scene between these two that offers the only moment of true tenderness, approaching love, in the whole play.

They are all tragic in their own ways but played with a truth that happily avoids bathos. Every actor has stand-out moments and none is ever less than impressive, not least because their focus it totally on the play and in the moments of which it is made.

As with The Mall, Sainsbury as director has worked wonders securing each actor in each character, maintaining the flow and pace of performance … And between them they achieve astonishing transitions between characters and scenarios. The quality of their collective craft must be acknowledged.

Thomas Sainsbury is a remarkable talent who may soon be lost to us … [click here for more].


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What’s so important about LUV?

Review by Lillian Richards 11th Mar 2008

A minor meditation on our search for the other   

Considering that when you look up ‘love’ on Wikipedia the first thing you see is a warning about ambiguity which states that love can mean both enjoying a meal or being willing to die for something, it’s not surprising that the meaning of love is a little misunderstood.

Possibly the most fertile topic in philosophy next to politics and religion; definitely the foundation of almost all music, literature, plays, poetry and dance; love has a very special place in our hearts (no pun intended, though rather unavoidable).

Yet not only is it often included in our greatest creative endeavours, it’s almost always pivotal. Because the one thing we know from the moment we can express such things, is this: we want love. Be this communicated by screaming, gasping for air or elaborate poetry and prose, we are certain that love is the thing for us. And yet when it comes to defining or possessing it, we seem to be at a loss. Valiantly this does not prevent us from trying.

This considered, perhaps what is most interesting about Thomas Sainsbury’s newest play, LUV, is his courageous attempt to illuminate some of our more ill-fated endeavours into definition and expression of love and loving. Even the wording of the play’s name gives something away; this is not an ode to love as Rumi would have penned it, but it is an ode, and does recognise the many misguided attempts at finding real ‘luv’ in a modern context.

Slur though it is, somehow the spelling of love, as ‘luv’, creates an almost onomatopoeic  resonance within its limited frame. You can almost see the stubby fingers txting the meaningless word into their Nokia and sending it to you.

I feel it’s safe to say that in a society obsessed with finding a significant other we very frequently misplace purity on the way to surety, or quality on the way to contentment. In the face of this, LUV bravely stands to highlight the insane, and often fallacious nature, of the ways in which we attempt to procure a partner. Sainsbury uses as examples ready stereotypes of tragedy, as is his want to do, yet within these stereotypes we can begin to see the fledgling formation of an argument as to why most of us are going wrong.

‘The beautiful girl who is nothing but her beauty’
Whilst this character (played with love and malice and depth by Hannah Marshall) has her moments of hilarity it is her constant need for external validation that leads her into isolation and ultimately grave depression. She is not a lonely stereotype, she is the stigma which marks almost 1 out of every 5 people you see walking down the street. With their magazine replicated appearance they look at you with trepidation, awaiting your validation, as they have no idea of their own worth. Here love looks for itself by succumbing to the idea that love has a standard and a dress code. 

‘The slut who wants to get married’
Morgana O’Reilly plays this to perfection, she is bitch and desperation all rolled into one. Her character’s need to marry creates a life of drinking and sex with men who care nothing for her and ultimately presents her with questions of self worth. Which she answers by bypassing marriage for money and infamy in selling her pathetic story to an ever hungry corp. of woman’s magazines.

O’Reilly manages to add pathos and tenderness to her performance which makes her character’s anger at life seem even more justified. She overtly displays the characteristics of every woman who has ever gotten marriage and love mixed up as two separate things, or worse, two things that are interchangeable in order. This is love trying to find itself in symbolism, as in: if I wear this medal, I am a hero: if I marry this man, I will be complete.

‘The self indulgent gay boy’
Played by Todd Emerson this character’s father is so wealthy he can afford a placebo reality show for his son, upon whom no indulgence is spared. Here success is used to attract love. However Emerson’s character is talentless and vapid and success does not befall him, though neither does a great epiphany. His idea of worthiness is linked to the idea of fame and upon failing at this he simply moves toward his next attempt at notoriety. In our current society it is hard to find one person who does not in some way equate the accumulation of money or the recognition of talent as being a form of love. Yet here we see the transparency of such a limiting definition.

‘The sociopath’

Perhaps the most disturbing character in the play is Steven Fitzgibbon’s portrayal of an ‘unstable personality’ who is prone to stalking, harassment, general neediness and murder. What is so striking about this character is that his exaggeration would perhaps lead us to conclude he was nothing like you or me, yet inside his ADD-addled psychosis there is a sense of entitlement that I believe we all feel. Fitzgibbon’s character needs to be loved as badly as the rest of us, he is just far more aggressive and assertive in his attempts at procuring it. What love does here is demand: it takes no hostages in a naïve attempt at reciprocity and attraction.

All bound up, LUV becomes a brave and outright satirical look at the possibilities of human folly and the potential for human compassion.

What one walks away from this play with is no ordinary play-going reflection: LUV dares to challenge the beautiful, pathetic and erroneous aspects of our turbulent relationships with others. It asks us to contemplate the merit of our neediness and insecurity, and to reinvent our idea of what it is to be worthy of having and giving love.

It begs us to question, in the light of a new and flippant society where philosophising has taken a serious down turn, what’s so important about love?   
For more production details, click on the title at the top of this review. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News.  


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Truly impressive multi-role playing in brilliantly layered script

Review by Nik Smythe 07th Mar 2008

Kicking off with a fevered, mostly one sided, txt exchange between an exuberant young part-time cleaner and the picture-perfect model of his dreams, Thomas Sainsbury’s LUV takes us on a ninety minute, fairly in-depth account of the various strategies for playing the mating game for young people in these modern times.  Along the way we learn that whilst technology makes contact and communication ever quicker and easier, the basic issues of loneliness, desire, self esteem and questioning loyalty are the same as always. 

At first the scenarios seem stereotypical, possibly clichéd: strange lonely man stalks beautiful model girl; beautiful model girl faces (no pun intended) crisis regarding plastic surgery addiction; shallow gay rich son of a television magnate throws his ego about with little or no credence to back it up; loose party girl stalks the most inappropriate and unavailable man possible.  Everyone is shallow and self-important, just like in real life.

Each central character’s story intermingles with the others’ sooner or later, and there’s plenty of depth to keep us enthralled throughout.  Not for the first time watching Sainsbury’s work I had just got to thinking I could see how this was going to play out when the story twisted out again.  Where the story ends up seems almost random, though not without its poignant message. 

The cast reflect the strength of Sainsbury’s solid, well tailored and brilliantly layered script. 

Todd Emerson plays a flakey young self-important gay upstart with equal certainty of character to the brutish thug of a rugby league celebrity, among other roles.  Stephen Fitzgibbon is so well cast it’s a bit scary, given the psychotic nature of his main role Ricky the stalker. 

Hannah Marshall also displays some dynamic versatility, not only between her various characters but also within the journey of Michelle, the unfortunate model who probably takes the biggest personal journey as she learns to cope without traffic-stopping looks. 

Morgana O’Reilly is also a bit of a chameleon; matronly cosmetic surgeon one scene, and the next she’s Gemma the desperately raunchy slapper, all too ready to put out to snag a bloke, not having struck on the potentially more effective notion of playing-hard-to-get.   

All four actors play multiple roles and at times the speed which they change is truly impressive, although the gripping action never kept me spotting such trains for more than a moment.  Cult favourite characters are Marshall and O’Reilly’s TV executives slash reality show production crew; hilariously convincing stereotypes right down to the bomber jacket.

Kristen Malcolm has done the team proud in her role as Art Director.  The set is minimal, the lights perfunctory, the sound design is everything it ought to be.  Every technical aspect is there to serve the purely theatrical work of the cast.  This it does.

Clearly Thomas Sainsbury is going for some kind of record for prolific output, this being one of around half a dozen or so plays he has written and directed in the last couple of years.  Of course, to pull off such a record requires a level of quality to keep audiences interested, not to mention actors.  The loyalty of the cast is illustrated by the fact that three of the cast of four have done a number of previous Sainsbury shows.  Besides that it’s simply clear that they are inspired and driven by being a part of an exciting, credible contemporary theatre movement, of which LUV is a typically classic example. 


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