Caryl Churchill’s much anticipated new play, Love and Information, consists of a conveyor belt of short scenes, offering the audience a brief window into the lives of over 100 characters. No sooner are we swept up in one snapshot than the scene dissolves and the stage is reset with another group of anonymous characters.
The white-box set (designed by Miriam Buether) is seamlessly transformed into an infinite number of locations, from gym to hospital to swanky bar. The scene changes are incredibly slick, continually propelling the play forward despite blackouts, which in a less masterful play I would find distractingly jarring. Apart from vaguely informative scene names, Churchill’s script gives almost no information about space, place or character. The action is dictated rather by the recurring themes that connect the stories together, weaving a wonderful web of complex emotions, memories, secrets and facts. The audience fills in these gaps in information with their own understanding, conjuring up backstories for the strangers on the stage.
One of the noticeable challenges of the production is the intense multi-roling required of the cast. The 16 actors slip smoothly between characters, appearing suddenly onstage like lampposts lighting up a dark street, only to quickly flicker out again. I was impressed by the achievements of the younger actors within the cast, particularly Josh Williams, who played a stroppy teenager and French waiter with real conviction. Other standout performances came from Linda Bassett, especially in the hilarious scene ‘Linguist’ where a woman in a restaurant muses over the meaning of language.
Whilst one family watch a wedding video together unable to recall anything about the day except what the tape has recorded, a former couple misremember their time together, revealing the discrepancies and discontinuities in the memories that shape our past. This theme of memory is cleverly reflected in my own experience of the play, as I’m unable to recall most of the scenes played out before me. The characters and conversations begin to bleed into one another until it’s difficult to distinguish one scene from another in my mind’s eye.
Love and Information plays with the amount of information that the audience are given, withholding vital nuggets to intrigue or frustrate, then bombarding us with precise, mind-boggling scientific facts. The result is a confusing set of data, random events and diverse characters that all seem to point to the fact that it is human nature to try and make sense of things. The final scene sees the entire cast onstage, in a concluding scenario which juxtaposes random, inconsequential facts with a couple’s expression of love for one another. Churchill wraps up the acutely observed slideshow of scenes with a chapter that merges facts and emotion before our eyes, reminding the audience that this love and information is shared by all of us and perhaps, I’d like to think, indicating the importance of theatre in creating valuable shared experiences.
Love and Information is playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 13 October. For more information and tickets, see the Royal Court Theatre website.