OK, I’ll admit it: this one’s a rom-com. But it’s a thoughtful, subversive, meaningful rom-com – which takes the usual fare of preposterous romantic misadventure, and gives it a creative, disturbingly credible twist. A one-woman show, it’s also a bittersweet exploration of what happens when you believe in the wrong kind of dream: of the hopefulness and the emptiness which will inevitably follow, if you’re gullible enough to conduct romance according to the rules of the silver screen.
At the centre of the story is a charmingly vulnerable young woman, Jessica, played with touching sensitivity by the talented Marie Rabe. She’s there at the start, sitting on the stage, fiddling with her hair and smiling shyly at anyone who’ll catch her eye. But as soon as we get underway, the formula takes a satirical turn: it seems Jessica’s seeking love not for herself, but for two complete strangers – a man and woman in next-door flats, whom she feels are ignoring their evident destiny.
Playwright Jennifer Williams has penned a low-key but quietly-sparkling monologue, filled with sharply unexpected observations. The humour is slow-burn, but all the better for it: indulgent chuckles at the start grew into sustained laughter by the end, often for lines which in another character’s mouth simply wouldn’t have seemed funny at all. The pace of the storyline builds as well, with Jessica’s meddlesome interventions growing more and more extreme. Even at the end, when disaster clearly looms, it’s hard not to feel just a little bit on-board with her misguided attempts to lend Fate a helping hand.
But there’s a strand of sadness woven through the laughter, too. Jessica is hopelessly naïve and disarmingly logical – and sadly for her, she’s applied that uncritical logic to a distorted myth of love at first sight. On the surface she’s striving to secure two strangers’ happiness, but it’s clear that her own lonely future is what’s really on her mind. True to the rom-com formula, there’s a moment of separation and shattered dreams – and Jessica’s desolation gains an added poignancy, as she tells herself she’s feeling it on behalf of someone else.
The ending’s an abrupt and unexpected one – and while I admire the boldness of writing it that way, I’d have preferred to be brought down more gently. Overall though, there’s almost nothing not to like about Operation Love Story: it’s a clever, touching, affecting little tale, told by a character you’ll come to care about. There’s plenty of laughter, and perhaps a couple of tears, in this well-written and beautifully executed play.