The majority of theatre has a structure that all audiences are familiar with and expect; the audience enters, a piece of theatre is performed and observed, everyone politely claps at the end (regardless of their level of enjoyment), the audience leave and continue on with their lives. Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist certainly does not conform to this well-worn format, relying heavily on audience participation to the point where the lines between performer and observer start to become blurred. This one man show written and performed by Sam Ward is brutally honest and thought-provoking, detailing extensively (and occasionally uncomfortably) five different no-strings attached meetings that he has experienced using the ‘casual encounters’ section of Craigslist. Throughout the show Ward discusses his personal experiences of emotionless sex using minimal props and audience created sound effects to create a low-budget atmosphere.

While Ward is undoubtedly a compelling story teller, the show occasionally feels fragmented and lengthy at times, as just when he has grabbed your attention with his impressive monologuing, he cuts away to a discussion with the audience where he makes sure everyone is ‘doing alright’ and ask ‘if anyone has any questions’. The audience discussions do create a feeling of being immersed in a group therapy session or social experiment rather than being in a theatre audience; however it rather needs a bit more polishing to integrate further into the performance.

In a parallel theme Ward talks expansively about the work of psychologists Arthur and Elaine Aron who devised thirty six questions aimed to increase personal and emotional closeness between two people. This creates a nice opposition to the stories of emotionless sex that create the main bulk of the performance, a clever technique that forces the audience to consider their own real life relationships and helps the audience to forge a connection not only with Tom on stage, but also with one another.

Overall while far from being a polished piece and having the occasional point where the use of casual audience interaction feels slightly jarring, the performance is an interesting and bold exploration into human closeness that does at times make you think deeply about your own relationships.

 

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