Love and Information
Royal Court Theatre, London - 8pm, until Sat 18 Oct
There's a certain way that people in plays speak sometimes, a self-conscious seriousness in which metaphors awkwardly pepper pseudo-philosophy, and Caryl Churchill's newest offering is riddled with it. Essentially this is a sketch show, a series of rapid vignettes, some entertaining, others bittersweet, but with a universal heavy-handedness. Churchill's ideas are strong and the themes and concepts she wishes to explore - the endless bombardment of information, memory and the terror of losing it, nostalgia, loss and how we connect to one another - are meaty and easily lend themselves to the kind of strong dramas she's been known for, but Love and Information feels like unsatisfying, as if Churchill herself hasn't yet figured out what she wants to say.
Almost sixty scenes are played with lightning speed changes, and the fast fragmentation is effective - like the characters she writes we are confused and bombarded; the deafening sound effects and aggressive lighting confrontational. The performances are nimble; naturally some characters seem better drawn than others - most notable is a ballerina without words whose simple movements and smile conjured a more complete figure than some - but the actor's ability to slide seamlessly into such different sequences at such different pitches is admirable, and the whole ensemble shared a perhaps deserve particular mention - they so often draw the short straw in this fundamentally modern play of having to play the older figure most perplexed by our new and confusing world, and all three highly skilled actors give these scenes warmth and wisdom. Equally some of the younger actors; some making their stage debuts, wrestle impressively with the text, but the unwieldy weight of much of their dialogue did, at times, get the better of them.
James MacDonald directs with a good eye and a sense of cohesion - despite the obvious bric-a-brac feel of the writing there's a style that runs throughout which helps the audience enormously and allows us to see the echoes and parallels which Churchill has deftly woven into the play. Through his choices and his pacing the very best of Love and Information is able to shine through. And yet even MacDonald's clear ability and a host of very fine actors, this play can't quite avoid an emperor's new clothes syndrome - it's a play that believes itself to be far more revolutionary than it is. Once the bright lights, the startling white box-prison set and the clanging of modern England in your ears have faded, the impression it makes is fleeting and insubstantial.