Phi Theodoros and her ukulele Willow make an endearing team in an ever-so-timely production of Ukulele Dream Girl: Love at a Distance. (Image source: Soda Street Productions)
By Helen Karakulak | @helen_karakulak
Love at a Distance is a light and bubbly cabaret that approaches various relationship dynamics. It’s an impressive feat to cover romantic, polyamorous, platonic, familial, and manic love, among others, in a 60-minute cabaret. While the format doesn’t allow for too much of a deep dive into any one of these, Phi Theodoros weaves them throughout this anthology of love divided.
Theodoros and her ukulele Willow are the Ukulele Dream Girl, an energetic duo with a clear performance background. Willow is well-played and paired with Theodoros’ powerful vocals, they make a vibrant pair. There’s a technical fumble here and there, but nothing the Ukulele Dream Girl cannot handle.
Love at a Distance isn’t romantic gospel. Some elements have been simplified to reach a diverse audience, as is often the case with theatre. It’s a nice introduction to connectedness and diversity of love at a distance and should be enjoyed as such. The productions power is in its ability to both entertain and invoke self-reflection.
Originally conceptualised in 2019, Theodoros was certainly ahead of the times with this show. While long distance love was prominent pre-COVID, the past 18-month blur of lockdowns, border closures and amplified anxieties made the sense of longing for loved ones all too relatable.
In saying this, the Ukulele Dream Girl is careful not to shift too much of the blame onto everyone’s favourite scapegoat: the pandemic. There are timely nods to handwashing and insistence we “don’t screw this up” so she can visit her fiancé at Brisbane festival, which garner a relatable giggle from the audience. However, the show’s ultimate themes of love and longing transcend any one pandemic or calendar.
Now, this reviewer believes in fair warning when it comes to audience participation, but Theodoros’ clever tactics to engage viewers is insightful, rather than terrifying.
Theodoros makes this clear from the beginning, she wants engagement. As a performer, she thrives off the audience’s energy, so don’t be afraid to offer poetry snaps (finger clicking) in agreement. This element plays into the poetic journey promised, as the performance incorporates spoken word and lyric techniques into this conscious cabaret that balances technical tradition and bubbly modernity.
Viewers are provided with a love language quiz to fill out when prompted during the show. This is a nice surprise to those who are familiar with the five love languages, and an interesting exercise for those who are not. No assumed knowledge is needed, as the Ukulele Dream Girl takes the audience through the five: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.
The audience engagement on offer through completing this quiz and snapping along fuels the larger theme of connectedness and makes clear Theodoros’ passion for communication. She believes knowing how we want to give and receive love can enrich our connections with loved ones despite the distance.
In terms of props, paper aeroplanes are cleverly used, zooming across the stage holding messages of love and affection as creative segues from one chapter of Love at a Distance to the next. Watching the Ukulele Dream Girl’s pink head of hair bobble from side to side as she determinedly races barefoot across the stage to catch them is a great source of amusement and sound effects to reflect her triumph are well-utilised.
In a combination of covers and original tracks, the show is well paced. Highlights include when a kazoo is playfully used during Lou Bega’s classic ‘Mambo No 5’. Theodoros’ original track, ‘Didn’t Need to Know’, effortlessly captures the feeling often referred to as “the ick” you develop when someone is just too into you.
A strength of this performance is that it’s inclusive of various types of love. Audience members that are monogamous, polyamorous, single, or love a good swipe through the apps, of whichever sexual orientation, gender or beyond will walk away having gotten something different out of it.
Ukulele Dream Girl: Love at a Distance is presented by Phi Theodoros and Adapt Enterprises at Holden Street Theatres until September 5.