Saturday 14 October 2023

Love Letters review (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

In Love Letters, human connection and love is explored through a lifelong relationship between two people. When Lisa's family decide to leave China and move to Australia, a letter-writing correspondence is forged with her school friend Zhangguo. With the decades that follow, heartbreak, love, loss, grief and deep yearning for something more is shared between the two in this dramatic but intimate story.

Angel Xiao and Fini Liu (who also serves as director) deliver committed performances as Lisa and Zhangguo. The show begins entirely in Mandarin (English surtitles on display) but once Lisa has moved to Australia her English speaking becomes more prominent, as well as her personality change in expressing herself more openly. Capturing this ongoing conflict in Lisa's life is demanding, but Xiao ensures that Lisa is as authentic as possible even with everything that life throws at her. By comparison, Liu plays a quieter, understated Zhangguo who remains inwardly frustrated at the limitations life has afforded him.

The story of the these two people is presented through their letter writing but it gradually loses its conceit as the two seemingly start to have conversations with each other despite being in different countries. The scenes play out like they are sending texts or direct messages via social media with the short and immediate response and replies they give each other.

Love Letters also has the challenging task of covering a lifetime of events in only 60 minutes, so there's a constant rush through pivotal life moments. Pregnancies, abortions, marriages, illnesses and life-changing career choices are mentioned and then forgotten about, but the actors do a great job of portraying the baggage their characters hold on to the older they get.

The score is eloquently crafted, building on the emotions, history and longing between the two in an almost move-like recreation. The final minutes of the show further highlights this but its impact is minimised by a premature "The End" appearing on the screen where the surtitles are displayed and being interrupted by applause.

Love Letters is like an Australian theatrical equivalent to the film Past Lives, where two people who may be spiritually together are unable to be physically together. Is it fair to destroy the lives of those around you if it means you will be able to find happiness? It's a profound question in a moving play where sometimes the answer results in unhappy endings for everyone.

Click here to read our interview with director and performer Fini Liu.

Show Details

Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton
Season: until 22 October | Wed - Sat 7:30pm, Sun 6:30pm
Duration: 60 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $25 Concession | $26.25 Hump Day Discount (Wednesday)
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival

Image credit: Sinya Li


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