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Love and Information, Royal Court

Caryl Churchill
Directed by James Macdonald

Pros: Churchill continues the push the boundaries of British dramatic enterprise.

Cons: The nature of the piece means some of the scenes leave you wanting more.

Our Verdict: A thought-provoking, exhilarating ride through all those scenes you see happening all around you everyday.

Courtesy of Alastair Muir for the Telegraph

I’ll happily spend hours people-watching. I know very few people who don’t, in fact, and for me some of the best experiences I’ve had in the theatre are those moments when you become so wrapped up in what’s unfolding in front of you that you feel exactly like that’s what’s happening. Love and Information provides fifty-seven scenes, split into seven sections and performed by sixteen actors, exactly in this vein. Private moments, public proclamations, humorous exchanges and passionate disputes – all manner of life is floated before our eyes.

And it is all manner of life. As the title suggests, all seven sections are filled with pieces that consider information and love; and what more really is there, in this funny old life of ours, than that? Love lost, love unrequited, love silenced and love proclaimed for all to hear. Knowing the truth or, indeed, not knowing. The fact is that the boundaries between the themes of the seven sections are so blurred in places as to be almost indistinguishable. Some obvious themes propel themselves forward – memory and the way we can pollute or destroy it, or communication of knowledge – but trying to separate out the individual threads and ideas of Churchill’s play would be a pointless pursuit. Rather, sit back and soak in the different scenes that strive to entertain and intrigue us.

Mental illness is woven intricately into the play. A whole series of one-line scenes, dotted throughout the 70 minutes, depict different couples where one character can’t be stirred from the depth of their depression, no matter the tenderness or the anger of their partner. Individually these scenes are heart-rending, but as a collection they voice the terror that those of us who have had to deal with depression know only too well – no matter what you say you might never get back that person you knew before, or more terrifyingly, you might never be that person you were before. But depression is not the only mental illness portrayed, and Churchill’s scenes of schizophrenia and mania are also agonizingly accurate.

Caryl Churchill continues to be a one-woman revolution in modern theatre. She somehow manages to write plays that singlehandedly alter the face of British playwriting, while allowing it to simultaneously retain the intrinsic fascination we have with human drama. Churchill has a long history with the Royal Court, having first been performed there over 40 years ago, and another new play, entitled Ding Dong the Wicked, is also being performed there next month. I’d go so far as to argue she is the most important living British playwright, and could write a piece shouting the praises of an older woman who is still writing and being performed and celebrated, but this is not the place. I’ll just say this: long may she continue.

The brilliant play is also complemented by a beautiful design. The set is almost clinical, very much like those cliché white boxes that the mentally ill are sent to in films. Each scene has one or two pieces of simple set and consequently there have to be phenomenal scene changes. These are done with such technical precision that everyone I went with commented on them as we left. The technical wizardry also involves a silent shutter that hides the onstage action between scenes, and you are left in the dark to guess how the music or sounds around you could feed into the upcoming scene. The production values are just phenomenally high, in true Royal Court style.

Churchill’s play is wonderful, there is no doubt in that, but James MacDonald and his direction of a fantastic cast must also be applauded. What they manage to do is to imbue beautifully written scenes with so much more. Some of these scenes are mere seconds and yet what the cast showed me was a whole host of thoughtful creatures. In so many of the scenes the relationship between the two characters remains a mystery, open to be read as the audience sees fit. Where I see lovers, you might see friends or relations. It is a beautiful comment on human relationships, and how compassion, love and thoughtfulness should be at the root of all our actions. I can’t help but feel in a way this is a truer exploration of Churchill’s political and moral values than some of her more overtly political plays. This seems to me to express what she is fundamental to her, a rejection of the greed and aggression of the consumerist, capitalist society we find ourselves wrapped up in. What Churchill’s play provides is a beautiful flexibility to be exploited by performers and directors as they see fit. MacDonald and his cast do this with great elegance.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Love and Information runs at the Royal Court until 13th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 7565 5000 or book online at http://www.royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/love-and-information

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