(Note: This review contains some very unavoidable spoilers!)
There’s been an air of mystery surrounding That is Not Who I Am since Royal Court first announced it. Even collecting the playtext pre-show adds to this; it’s handed over in a brown paper envelope, marked Confidential, with strict instructions for it NOT to be unsealed until after the show. The question is though, would the play live up to this?
From the opening moments, when a disclaimer is projected onto the safety curtain advising us the play we’re about to see isn’t the advertised one, we are thrown beautifully off balance. Even the fake title is a wonderful red herring. The real play is in fact called Rapture.
Opening twist out of the way, the real play emerges. Noah and Celeste (Jake Davies and Siena Kelly) are set up by a newspaper to go on a date. Why? It’s never made clear. But then there are many things never fully explained. Because this is a play about conspiracy theorists. There are whiffs of this from their opening conversation; she mentions chemtrails, he outlines why 9/11 doesn’t ring true. But it’s all very casual, with no hint of how their lives will spiral deeper down the rabbit holes of all the different conspiracies we hear almost daily. With so much noise, how do we know what to believe?
Against this backdrop enters Lucy (Priyanga Burford), the ‘real’ playwright and all-seeing narrator. It cleverly gives a feel of a documentary, or even found-footage film. More mystery is added as she explains what her research for the play has revealed: why the Home Office are not happy about her work, why they had to hide it behind the false name and playwright.
As you’d expect with the Royal Court, the staging is impressive. Naomi Dawson‘s set spins 360 degrees to reveal the different rooms of their home. Even the set and rotation feel deliberate, allowing us to see stagehands at work, as if they want everything to be totally transparent; leaving nothing to allow people to say we were misled at all.
There are plot holes aplenty: why a normal couple would be monitored from so early on, inconsistencies with their baby (was it even real?), a sudden religious aspect that isn’t mentioned again. Yet it almost feels like these ‘errors’ are intentional, giving us reason to pick it all apart. As any good conspiracist will tell you, that’s how the people in charge operate: they want to leave you confused and uncertain about everything.
And largest issue of all, what is their big conspiracy anyway? Those discussed can be found every day on Twitter. There’s nothing that would explain why, in Lucy’s belief, they are monitored by security services. It all feels strangely plausible nonetheless, maybe because we do know that the government lie to us daily.
The show certainly treads a fine line between being very clever or annoyingly smug. There is a question as to why the fake names are strictly needed: the play would stand up to scrutiny even had the real title and author been revealed from day one.
But for those who think it stays just on the clever side, it succeeds in being an incredibly interesting piece of theatre, one you’ll be thinking and talking about long after. Even the false ending is another lovely, unexpected twist, or maybe twists would be more precise. It’s a play that will probably divide opinion, but my feeing is that this is a great piece of work.
“I can’t tell if you are making this up” Celeste tells Noah during that first date. And perhaps this whole play’s purpose can be condensed into that one line – what are we meant to believe? Or maybe, WHO are we meant to believe?
Written by: Lucy Kirkwood
Directed by: Lucy Morrison
Set design by: Naomi Dawson
Sound design by: Peter Rice
Video design by: Gino Ricardo Green
Prodcued by: Royal Court Theatre