Date Show - After Dark

Photo: The Hype Factory Production Photo: The Hype Factory

It is a damp weekday afternoon in Belfast (nothing unusual there, then!) when I approach the Bullitt Hotel to take in Three’s Theatre Company's Date Show: After Dark, hereafter Date Show II, directed by Colm Doran and co-produced by Anna Leckey and Elisha Gormley.

But, and it's a big "but": if you're expecting something as immediately appealing as its delightful MAC-based predecessor, you're in for a shock. But in a good way. What Doran, Leckey, Gormley and company have put together, in the confines of a hotel as opposed to a specialist arts venue, is actually kind of brilliant: something entirely befitting of the "dark" in its title.

Staged with an emphasis on perspective and point-of-view, the audience, or should I say participants, are invited to immerse themselves in the shows with red-coloured, green-coloured or blue-coloured headphones. Mine are red, meaning that a couple of short plays go unseen, but, as with Date Show's two "menus", this gives you a good reason to go see it again.

And what I see in Date Show II are a series of mini-shows that stay true to the essence of Date Show I, but with less flightiness and with a greater cutting edge. They embrace the idea and ideal of connectivity and intimacy, while also exploring both as a means of counteracting one of our greatest fears: loneliness. They're about the consequences of desire and lust, with strong emphasis on what happens when couples either can't click or find themselves entrapped: subconscious theatre made with true affection for its audience, participants and characters.

Early plays such as "The Wrong Distance" and "The (really, anything but) Happy Couple" reek of tragedy, pivotal to people who clearly love each other but have no time to love properly in a relentlessly individualist landscape. It’s tough to highlight any performance in particular – everyone is good – but, as in Date Show I, Aisling Groves-McKeown is an utter pleasure to watch. This time the actress brings greater action and weariness to her roles, as women who feel let down by dates and society and believe it is their responsibility alone to inject couplings with life.

Production Photo: The Hype Factory

Having both McKeown and Cailum Carragher crouch behind the railings of the Bullitt staircase in "A Slow Death" is a genius move. The metal bars draw attention to the possible restriction in relationships while we can look down at a dusty ground and up at seemingly endless flights of stairs. It’s that old adage – once you reach the top, there’s nowhere to go but down.

But for us, there's nowhere to go but up, at least in terms of quality. The physically amusing and quietly saddening aspects of love are smartly depicted in "Room 118" – literally set in a hotel room – and "Lemonade", respectively. before we walk down and out, surrender our headphones and find that there's no sunshine on Leith.

That would be Dan Leith, strumming his guitar and singing a song beside the onrushing traffic in a damp Belfast. We're back in the real world, and so is he, thinking of love amidst the cold hard truth of busking, before we're led back inside the hotel for the dual-layered finale of "Love Birds". Lizi Watt and Gerard Kelly dance to Lily Moore's "Not That Special" in the middle of the floor while a projected video of their connection explains everything about them, the "love birds" dancing, getting intimate, sharing... and arguing, amidst the streets of Belfast.

It really is what it is. I didn't think it possible, but Doran, Leckey and Gormley have taken their early year masterpiece and made it more complicated and extraordinary, with an ending that, as abrupt as it seems, is the only proper ending for the show. For unions are always about longing for more, and the pain we feel when we don't get the "more" we're looking for. If Date Show was a dream, Date Show: After Dark is the reality behind the dream.

Simon Fallaha

Date Show: After Dark runs until Friday October 19th in Belfast's Bullitt Hotel. For more information click here.