This old Melbourne picture house will soon be gone. Until then, it’s hosting an undersea odyssey

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Love Lust Lost ★★★
Broad Encounters, The Austral Theatre, From Sept 15

Love Lust Lost has a double claim to the “immersive theatre” label. The show creates an exotic labyrinth of performance through which audiences can rove and it also takes inspiration from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Bri Emrich performs in the immersive Love Lust Lost.Credit: Jeff Busby

As a genre, immersive theatre has surfed a global wave of popularity in the 21st century.

It first attracted international attention with Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More – a noir-like maze based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which premiered in London in 2003 and is still playing in New York today – and finally burst from the fringes into the Australian mainstream when Spanish company Teatro de los Sentidos collaborated with local artists to bring The Echo of the Shadow to the 2016 Melbourne Festival.

Since then, Malthouse Theatre has championed the form on the main stage, using pandemic lockdowns to transform its entire complex into an immaculately designed free adaptation of Hamlet (Because the Night, 2021), with another immersive adventure, Hour of the Wolf, to open in October.

Broad Encounters mightn’t have the resources of a subsidised company, but it specialises in immersive performance with carnivalesque appeal and its previous offering, A Midnight Visit, sold out for months in 2019.

Love Lust Lost draws inspiration from the work of Jules Verne.Credit: Jeff Busby

That one mined the dark imagination of Edgar Allan Poe to confect a gothic wonderland in a North Melbourne warehouse and blended atmospheric design, the odd funfair attraction (the show featured an insanely popular adult ball pit), and a moveable feast of circus, cabaret, magic and spoken word.

Love Lust Lost repeats the winning formula with a nautical theme. Marine curiosities are festooned throughout the bowels of The Austral, a 1921 Collingwood picture theatre that closed in the 1950s with the advent of television. (Sadly, the building will soon be demolished and this may be your last chance to experience a fascinating piece of local history first-hand.)

Exploring the unknown is central to immersive theatre’s charm. No spoilers from me. I can say that Captain Nemo has been replaced by an even looser unit called Captain Anderson, and that the Nautilus will deliver you an undersea odyssey in which you’re as likely to stumble across a foam party or a hidden bar or a bit of kinky burlesque as you are the fabled kraken.

Marine curiosities are festooned throughout the bowels of The Austral, a 1921 Collingwood picture theatre that closed in the 1950s. Pictured: Sandro ColiarelliCredit: Jeff Busby

True, the experience doesn’t have quite the thematic cogency of A Midnight Visit. Camp intrudes in too many weird and whimsical variations to make much sense of what’s afoot aboard this vessel and the finale is more Rocky Horror than Jules Verne.

But that won’t appreciably lower the fun factor, at least not for the kidults the show is geared to attract, and design and performances are strewn with more than enough oddities to keep adventurers diverted.
Reviewed by Cameron Woodhead

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