Friday, 21 September 2012

Love and Information at Royal Court

Love and Information
Royal Court
6 Sept-13 Oct 2012
This isn’t a play in the usual sense, but over 50 mini-vignettes, played inside a small cube of white, tiled walls, reminiscent of a laboratory or institution. As the title suggests, it is about how we communicate and use or misuse information and how information can inform or undermine our love for each other. Churchill is clearly using this form to imitate, and simultaneously as a critique of, the sound bite world we live in; how information comes to us randomly in fragments. The actors play out their scenes, sometimes only seconds long or at most a few minutes, with verve, wit and intensity. We are taken on a rapid-fire kaleidoscope of snapshots from daily life, from a geriatric ward to a cocktail bar, from a mental health hospital to a beach, bedroom or gym. Each vignette focusing on an aspect of communication or understanding, as well their lack. There are strong resonances of Pinter and Becket; you’re continually confronted with existential questions.
What is disappointing is that the many parts don’t really add up to anything more substantial. While Churchill raises questions about genetics, mental health, how the brain works and the use of language, each of her miniscule scenes gives the audience little chance to reflect on the issues raised, before the next scene begins. She also fails to provide any deeper understanding or discussion of the issues she raises. Churchill is a socialist and an intelligent commentator on social and political issues, yet here she appears to have difficulty grappling with the big issues. We are living through the deepest economic crisis any of us can remember, we face environmental catastrophe, and are living through a technological revolution that is transforming the way we relate, yet she treats these fundamental issues with timidity.
While her writing has true wit, and the production does her proud by milking it for all its worth, one is left dissatisfied.  It feels more like titillation, a rehearsal rather than the real thing.
Caryl Churchill is one of Britain’s most innovative as well as progressive playwrights. Drawing strongly on Brecht’s ‘gestus’ idea, she again here uses non-naturalistic techniques and places ideas at the centre. Her intention is to provoke her audience to think, but she has to offer a greater stimulus than this.
James Macdonald has done a great job directing this difficult piece and the actors demonstrate an admirable versatility and flexibility in a situation where they only have seconds to develop any character or personality.
The audience on the opening night gave the production ample applause, but I would have liked fewer nibbles and more meat.

Yours for the Asking at Orange Tree

Yours for the Asking
Orange Tree, Richmond London
5 Sept-6 Oct 2012
The Orange Tree has again pulled off a coup with the UK premiere of this play by Argentinean-born Spanish playwright Ana Diosdado, one of Spain’s leading writers. This play was completed in 1973 only two years before the dictator Franco’s death. It dramatises the insidious effect of mass media advertising and news manipulation on the lives of ordinary people. Although these concepts are no longer new, the play has retained its relevance. With the Murdoch hacking scandals, the rebranding of mass-murdering company Union Carbide as Dow Chemicals, sponsor of the Olympics, and the ubiquitous use of sex for advertising, its message is still powerful today.
Juan, a stressed and jaded hack is sent by his celebrity gossip magazine to interview Susi, a young model, who’s been transformed into the image for a new perfume – a ruse by the chemical company to mask its culpability for the deaths of several children, after using one of its a drug products. The ruse is exposed and Susi, an icon of beauty and purity, overnight becomes a vilified outcast. Juan and Susi fall in love, but she is already at the end of her tether and contemplating suicide. But in a clever twist at the end, she fails to go through with it, but he does. I was strongly reminded of the Arthur Miller/Marylyn Monroe relationship. As Juan says: ‘It is the system we live in’ that is to blame for so many messed up lives.
Once again, director Sam Walters presents us with a tightly woven drama, teasing out its deep humanity and dramatic possibilities to the limit, and designer Katy Mills manages, with only a table and a couple of chairs, to transport us into a newsroom, a bedroom, a lift and a living room. A tremendous cast led by Mia Austen as the innocently vulnerable model and Steven Elder as the journalist, are ably supported by Rebecca Pownall as Juan’s wife Celia, David Antrobus and James Joyce.
Perhaps a little too earnest (Dario Fo’s ‘Death of an Anarchist’ with less humour) and at times didactic, but certainly gets under the skin.