Theatre Review: Love and Information

Love and Information by Caryl Churchill; A Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre Company Production. Directed by Kip Williams.

I had the pleasure of attending the Australian Premiere season of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information at the Wharf Theatre last night. Being at the Wharf, I never questioned that the production would be an entertaining one. In fact, when the subject of Australian theatre-going came up at soccer practice, I found myself promoting the lively culture we have and variety of the local pickings. I was selling our local scene to a seasoned London and European theatre-goer. It didn’t occur to me at the time that I may have been adding a little bit of spice. Would the production measure up in delivery? Would the play connect, seem real? It was written by Caryl Churchill.

I can’t remember having seen another play by Caryl Churchill since I studied Cloud Nine at Uni, too many years ago. As a sheltered 18 year old, Cloud Nine had shocked me. I couldn’t connect to it. It was too arty. By the measure of my limited life experience, it was too contrived. Why Churchill now? I’ve since experienced the rain. And besides, can this sort of spin be resisted:

A child cannot feel pain. A man has a secret. A woman wants an affair. A scientist dissects a brain. Someone tells the police. Another puts an elephant on the stairs.

In a series of tantalising vignettes, over 100 vibrant characters search for meaning in their lives. Through sex, death, feeling, thinking, taxidermy and karaoke they discover each other. . . ?

Not realising how much science is referred to in the play, I attended with my fellow soccer-mum who also happens to be a geneticist and sci-fi enthusiast. When the ins and outs of genetic research were described in minutiae, I was looking beside me and not towards the stage. How accurate was all of the information and if it wasn’t, would it matter to her? Apparently, it’s accurate. Not only this, it’s entertaining. If you were a geneticist, in how much detail would you describe what you did to the bloke you just met at a party?

Many stories are told through the sparkling performances of an ensemble cast of 8: Marco Chiappi, Harry Greenwood, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Ursula Yovich and Alison Whyte.  The fragmentary nature of the writing draws the audience into Churchill’s message with many different emotional hooks. The cast show off their versatility and the way they gel on stage is exactly what’s called for to make this dense offering of scenes fresh. The scenes are short and pithy, sometimes too short. In some instances the brevity of the scenes didn’t quite get their message through. At other points, it was hard to tell if earlier stories were being expanded on by different performers or similar tales were being told with a slightly skewed take from the original, later in the progression.  I found that I just wanted that little bit more in the story-telling or a slower delivery to be able to properly absorb these quick-as-a-flash scenes. Other times, they delivered a poignant punch.

The Production Design by David Fleischer is dynamic, literally.The stark, white stage is anything but bare or static. The cast are carefully choreographed in their movement of a dozen or so knee-high, rectangular prisms that help define the setting whether they are on a train, in the museum, on the moon, or in a living room. Needless to say, the scene changes underpinned by the music of the Sweats, were engaging. The overwhelming whiteness of the setting seems a reflection on white noise that is superfluous information. The stark-white was also was crucial to the creation of visual messages that were wordless and strong e.g., the Astronaut’s walk through the unknown, through space, through the informationless void.

Apollo 16 (Archive: NASA, Marshall, 4/16/72)

I really enjoyed the play.The beauty in the playwriting is that it’s not preachy but builds its meaning through the shifting grains of a kaleidoscope. Caryl Churchill’s message is relevant and told in such a way that you come to the realisation gradually through a bombardment of scenes that function like the bombardment of information she sees around us. Important information – emotional sharing and truth in society-are trivialized and almost lost in the assault on our attention.

Do words share love? Be attentive or the words you most want to hear will be lost in the stream.

We left the theatre, two very satisfied soccer-mums.

Love and Information is playing at the Wharf Theatre until 15 August, 2015. Tickets can be purchased at sydneytheatre.com.au, ph: 9250 1777. It’s a good night out.

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center / Foter / CC BY-NC

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