★★★★★ Uplifting, enlightening and powerfully profound: Caryl Churchill’s ode to the age of information.

Wharf 1 Theatre, Walsh Bay
11 July, 2015

Love and Information could hardly be a more apt title for visionary playwright Caryl Churchill’s inspired exploration of those most human of impulses: a fervent desire for knowledge, and the emotional repercussions of that learning.

Chruchill is unquestionably one of the most inexhaustibly inventive voices in modern theatre, and in typically pioneering style she has done away with the conventional architecture of a traditional play, distilling the medium into its rawest and most potent elements. Through a sequence of 57 vignettes, some lasting only seconds, others as long as five minutes, we’re presented with a fleet-footed carousel of different scenarios, featuring over a hundred nameless characters. We see mere flashes of these people’s lives, but thanks to director Kip Williams’ artfully observed placing of these scenes, in familiar social contexts, these brief encounters are able to communicate with astonishing accuracy.

Indeed Churchill allows a sizable amount of creative flexibility in the direction of this text. The order in which each scene is performed; the gender, age and demeanour of the characters; the environment where the action takes place: all are left for the director to decide, and Williams’ highly accomplished account is impressively thoughtful. Williams is a relatively junior figure in Australian theatre, although he boasts an impressive résumé of previous productions, and the dizzying demands of this play provides ample opportunity for directorial misfires. However the fluency and cohesion of this production, which sharply articulates each scene with creative flare and accessible significance, is a credit to Williams’ substantial gifts.

(Photo Pia Johnson)

As one might expect from a Sydney Theatre Company production, the calibre of the cast is unanimously stellar, and the taut, precise choreography of each scene is part of the pleasure to be found in this play. Previous productions in London and New York have used up to 15 actors, but with just eight performers in STC’s staging, the sheer volume of different characters each actor must inhabit during this play’s 110 minutes is an impressive feat in itself. With often only seconds to prepare, the depth of emotional authenticity each cast member is able to muster is truly masterful. Individual moments are laugh-out-loud funny or startlingly moving, but as a sequence, the effect is an accumulative poignancy that grabs hold and persists long after the curtain call. Unconventional it may be, but it is a nonetheless uplifting, enlightening and powerfully profound piece of theatre.

David Fleischer’s bare-white, simple yet pliable set, featuring a collection of equally sized blocks that the eight-strong cast manipulate around the stage, tessellating to create a myriad of different settings (a natural history museum, a swimming pool, a train carriage and a grave yard to name only a few examples), is the perfect blank canvas for the action. By contrast, Paul Jackson’s chromatic lighting design, that throws blocks of vivid colour across stage, keeps the break-neck transitions between scenes vibrant and dynamic. Working in tandem with the driving electronica of The Sweats’ score, the pace of this production is as thrilling as it is kaleidoscopic.

Theatre purists may find the nebulous structure a challenge, and objectively one could argue that without the familiar plot devices and characterisation to decrypt Churchill’s dialogue, Love and Information risks becoming a white-noise of confusing, unintelligible material. Unburdened of the necessary exposition required for a traditionally assembled plot, this play delivers insightful observations like a machine gun, but while there is an element of over-stimulation as we’re corralled from one realisation to the next, it becomes clear that this, surely, is the point of this script. It is a humanist statement that in this information age we are all, to some degree, overwhelmed by the endless torrent of facts and opinion that bombard us from every direction. It is how we haul up some emotional nourishment from this churning cascade of information that defines who we are. 

Sydney Theatre Company present Love and Information, until August 15.

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