Stage

Love and Information review (Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney)

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British playwright Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information is a sprawling opus on 21st century living with a form so simple but ambitious perhaps only a writer of her legendary stature could pull it off.
The play is made up of anywhere from 51 to 76 scenes (the director has a lot of space to move and choose which scenes make it in and which don’t) which are all disconnected and feature different characters. Most of the brief scenes have two characters communicating some kind of information — gossip about the boy they both have a crush on, a family secret, or the more intricate details of a character’s research job. Some scenes are as short and abrupt as “there’s an exhibition of expressionist…”, while others take whimsical turns, as when a group of friends tries to explain pain to a boy who cannot feel that sensation.
This holds together as a rich but abstract tapestry of people trying desperately to connect to the world around them — some times more successfully than others. Churchill examines how emotional experience is embedded in the information we exchange, and as an audience member it’s both extraordinary and overwhelming. Scenes flicker past, and while they affect you emotionally, you often realise that you’ve absorbed very little of what has just gone before. It’s funny, it’s heart-wrenching, it’s confusing and sometimes it’s verges on dull. Sound a little like living in the digital age?
The scenes are sharply drawn, but Churchill’s script supplies only dialogue — not specific characters or setting. It’s the director’s job to curate and shape these pictures into something with meaning.
As one of Sydney Theatre Company’s resident directors, Kip Williams has some superlative productions under his belt. Considering his relative youth, it’s surprising just how accomplished this production is and how much ground it covers.
With his co-collaborators (the eight-person cast included), Williams creates individual worlds for each scene, which spring out of David Fleischer’s bare white set, covered in identical white drama blocks. The drama blocks form a swimming pool, exhibition platforms in a museum, a tram, and the hard-working cast move them expertly around the stage with speed and precision.
Paul Jackson’s lighting design, made up of blocks of colour and stark whites, defines the spaces but also orientates and disorientates the audience when necessary. The score by The Sweats is gorgeously encompassing –it’s a pulsing, driving electronic dance-inspired composition, then it’s slow, vibrating thuds juxtaposed against the constant motion of the performances.
The actors are first-rate and each is required to cover the gamut of characters and styles (with some breathtakingly quick costume changes). The play was first performed in London with 15 actors, but here just eight. All are sublime in what is a true ensemble piece: Marco Chiappi, Harry Greenwood, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Alison Whyte and Ursula Yovich.
There is the occasional scene where Williams’ directorial choices work slightly against the natural rhythms of the language, but his approach to the text is well-tuned to Churchill’s sensibilities. There’s playfulness and innovation, but his direction is always remarkably assured and confident.
When reviewing the original London production of Love and Information for The Independent, Charles Spencer wrote: “It’s just a shame that one leaves the show with the slightly sick feeling of having spent an evening gorging on canapés”. Some of the best meals of my life have been made up entirely of canapés, and have been as complete and satisfying experiences as this production. If you’re an audience member who relishes being thrown slightly off balance by theatre, this is an endlessly rewarding and truthful play. Love and Information is a piece of theatrical wizardry and works on an almost subconscious level.
[box]Love and Information is at the Wharf 1 Theatre, Sydney until August 15. Featured image by Pia Johnson[/box]
Read more about Love and Information: 
Andrew Fuhrmann’s review from its Melbourne season
Interview with director Kip Williams
Ask an Expert: Dr Fiona MGregory’s guide to Caryl Churchill  

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