Theatre review: Sparks, Pleasance Courtyard

Anoushka Lewis and Jessica Butcher combine forces to tell the tale of a woman looking for love. Picture: Contributed
Anoushka Lewis and Jessica Butcher combine forces to tell the tale of a woman looking for love. Picture: Contributed
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It’s 11:30am and, through a lilac haze, Michael Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel pours out.

Sparks, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) ****

It’s a fitting start for a two-woman musical that follows an exhilaratingly open young woman trying to find love and deal with loss in a city – London – where sex is as throwaway as Pret wrappers, dating requires apps, and conversations are all about me, me, me.

While writer/performer Jessica Butcher tells the story through narration – shifting between graphic, silly, profound and poetic observations on 20-something life – performer/ musician Anoushka Lucas tells the same story through original songs, from the upbeat to the baroque, elevating a piece that at times feels determined to provoke a “first world problems” response.

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Both women play the same person, this upbeat Londoner who is trapped by childhood nostalgia and has (through Butcher’s performance, at least) a wired, wide-eyed unease – one that initially seems to come from spending too long waiting for interchangeable men to message her on social media but, it later becomes apparent, may be provoked by something else.

“I’m a feminist,” the young woman repeats, as she desperately tries to find some sort of “spark” – which she seems to define as a conventional relationship – with a man known simply as X, who neither she nor we ever learn much about.

Eventually we’re left with a somewhat tragic image of a woman trying to find love where there clearly is none, but also dealing with other life traumas that can feel like they belong in a separate story. In the end, it’s not men but dancing that brings the woman the spark she craves – and we’re left to wonder whether it’s her or the world she inhabits that is out of touch with what life is, or should be, all about.

• Until 26 August, 11.30am