Venue: Wharf 1 Sydney Theatre Company (Walsh Bay NSW), Jul 9 – Aug 15, 2015
Playwright: Caryl Churchill
Director: Kip Williams
Cast: Marco Chiappi, Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman, Anthony Taufa, Ursula Yovich, Alison Whyte, Harry Greenwood
Images by Pia Johnson
Caryl Churchill’s Love And Information is a 90 minute play, composed entirely of very short sequences that look to be extracts from a wide range of stories running the gamut of genres in conventional theatre. Each independent bite-sized piece, not matter how small, provides enough for us to make sense of events taking place in the moment, but the scenes do no immediately relate to one another. Except, it is human nature to make meaning regardless of what is being scrutinised, and we form voluntary interpretations about the things we see. In the case of Churchill’s very fascinating work, we are seduced into intellectual overdrive, almost like reading a mystery, piecing together clues that may or may not be, to find a consolidation of significance. A great work of art is one that helps its viewer see a true picture of themselves, and their place within a social universe. The moral of Churchill’s stories is a fluid one, and we take from them what is intimate to us as individuals, and as such, it can be seen that the writer has used abstraction to successfully facilitate a kind of self-awareness in the viewer’s sense of being and identity.
The work makes a statement about contemporary times, and our environment of obsessive information technology. If modernity is sick, attention deficit disorder would be one of its chief ailments. We are incessantly seeking out information from all sources, like an addict with no ability of discernment. We find out small bits about everything, with no regard for relevance, and certainly no capacity for any depth. As our social and physical spaces become increasingly congested, our attention is compelled to be dispersed into a multitude of directions, all of the time, and this might be a case of “resistance is futile”, as we cannot be sure if we have any choice in the matter, or if indeed, we are able to withdraw into any alternatives. The play talks about choices, especially the lack thereof, and toys with the concept of hiding as a solution, but it is clear that we are what we are.
Director Kip Williams gives us all that we wish from a stage production, in spite of a missing story. The production is emotionally appealing, as it carefully emulates the sentimental journey of a narrative-driven plot, with all its intrigue, comedy, surprises and poignancies. Williams makes us respond accordingly even though there are no characters to follow. The thoroughly experimental nature of the work is no impediment at all to a satisfying experience for any audience with even just a minutiae of sophistication. Additionally, the work’s cerebral aspects might be unusually dynamic, but they are accessible to most. The production is an engaging one that inspires questions at every step of the way, and we read it at any level of competency that suits us personally.
Lighting designer Paul Jackson gives each distinct chapter and verse, a personality and beauty that captivate us, while assisting our subconscious to understand all that is being conveyed. Our visual attention is masterfully controlled so that we are kept firmly within the unusual plot trajectories that unfurl. Music and sound by The Sweats are a key feature that binds each aspect of the production to present a surprisingly coherent whole. The soundscape dictates the pace of the piece from beginning to end, and tells us quite directly how to respond at all times in our participation just outside the stage’s fourth wall. The technical proficiencies of Love And Information is extraordinary. There is nothing else that calls for as many scene and character changes, with what must be over one or two hundred entrances and exits, all flawlessly executed with an unbelievable fluency and grace. Stage Manager Lisa Osborn’s abilities are truly remarkable.
Also proficient is the diverse cast of eight, every one unique in appearance and style, yet tightly unified in the vision they aim to concoct and the energy they bring to the stage. The accuracy required of them both in terms of the technical and the artistic are simply unbelievable and they deliver with astounding dexterity. Predictably, the funnier actors leave a greater impression, and while Glenn Hazeldine’s comedy is only allowed flashes of brilliance in a play with lightning speed transitions, the actor never misses with any of his punchlines no matter how subtle. Anita Hegh too, is memorable for creating laughter at will, and her effortless charm is one that grabs hold of our attention and convinces us of everything being communicated. The play has philosophy seeping through every pore, and Ursula Yovich gives them a sublime gravity, whether the topic be death or infidelity.
A distillation of the theatregoing experience would probably reveal two fundamental elements; entertainment and meaning. When art is challenging, it helps us discover new things and prevents our existences from turning empty, but entertainment is always the easier ticket to purchase. While not mutually exclusive, they rarely meet as equals. In Love And Information, the two come as an explosive package. Philosophically and intellectually enthralling, it is similarly exciting and joyful from a perspective of pure amusement. There are better sources of fun and frivolity of course, but here is a rare and monumental leap in the evolution of the theatrical arts. If this is experimental, the real event that it paves way for, will be nothing less than revolutionary.