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A Long Distance Affair – Electric Dreams Online Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Creators: Ana Margineanu, Tamilla Woodard, and Peca Stefan

 With plenty of flights grounded this summer, international travel has been impossible for many. PopUP Theatrics have devised an interactive trip around the world for a selected group of participants taking them abroad for three very different encounters. Based on earlier iterations of the production now reimagined for the Zoom age, A Long Distance Affair will take you to Madrid, Singapore and Miami without leaving your bedroom.

Welcomed to the Virtual Lobby by Henrik and Michelle, the show’s travel agents, participants are transferred to break out rooms where they meet Angel in Spain who has a special message to deliver, before heading to Singapore for a virtual workout and finally to Julieta’s eye lash extension masterclass in Miami before returning home around 50-minutes later.

On this particular flight, only three other passengers were along for the ride, and as each performer addresses the audience directly, using your name, sometimes referencing your physical characteristics and requiring everyone to join in group activities or chats, anyone hoping to lurk unseen and unheard in the background of a busy Zoom screen means A Long Distance Affair will not be for you.

Based on the title, if you expected a series of one-on-one dating encounters or similar then the real content of the show will be a surprise. There are no affairs here and no one on screen is in love with you. Instead the audience experiences three 10-minute, unrelated stories only tangentially linked by themes of connection and trust in a better future. Linking the audience to performers stationed around the world is, however, one of the more inventive approaches to managing a show since theatres closed.

But it is a strange experience with so few participants – the downside of hosting three shows in as many hours each day of the performance. Charming as your fellow travellers appear to be, everyone remains fairly reserved at first, despite Henrik and Michelle’s attempts to create some atmosphere with an airport backdrop and some bouncy tunes. The interlinking passages in the Virtual Lobby are never able to generate the enthusiasm necessary with three nervous Zoom boxes waiting to see what they will be asked to do next.

A Long Distance Affair is technically impressive, managing multiple time zones and countries across the night, and there is no doubting the sincerity of the performers who sustain their persona and energy faultlessly with only modest encouragement from their audience. What a real life angel promising you a miracle, an online exercise class to help you fight the school bullies and a tutorial from a lonely make-up artist have in common or what exactly PopUP Theatrics want us to take away is less clear.

Part of the Electric Dreams Festival, perhaps fewer shows with more participants might loosen everyone up a bit, but it is an interesting idea driven by the passion of its creators and the technical skills behind the scenes. This is a show for anyone who enjoys immersive theatre and keen to interact with characters in a controlled environment because there really is nowhere to hide; you will either love it or be cringing on the inside.

Runs until 11 August 2020

Electric Dreams Online Festival Website 

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Technically impressive

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