FringeReview UK 2016
Directed and designed by Kirsty Elmer this 2012 play of Caryl Churchill hums thrillingly, lit by Strat Mastoris with a pc team utilising two large screens in a high tech look to this Studio production. A selection of Churchill’s many scenes are utilised
Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information from 2012, is directed and designed by Kirsty Elmer and lit by Strat Mastoris with a ‘pc’ team utilising two large screens in a high tech look to this Studio production; images and short videos crowd and sometimes repeat. Cast member Dottie James designed the multi-media. A selection of Churchill’s many scenes are utilised with a cast of nine. It continues NVT’s championing of our greatest living playwright, actively our finest since the early 1980s.
It’s a stunning ensemble play, Churchill’s flickering meditation on how we communicate and convey love and every other shade of being. Kirsty Elmer’s directed two very similar-feel ensemble pieces before at NVT. She brings back the high-tech screens she deployed in Hare’s verbatim The Permanent Way, and as with the three-roomed Decade too Elmer on this evidence prefers large ensembles, short scenes, everything even costumes tight in black, the world edged in chrome with minimal colour distraction, a tight impersonal finish. The Studio floor’s gridded white lines on black. A filled-in chessboard.
Churchill’s text has seven sections and a ‘Random’ one at the end, a grab-bag of tiny shorts. You can take any number of scenes from each section and in any order, but the one instruction is to sequence the sections in order, and this Elmer doesn’t do. With so many variables open to her it seems a bit churlish – however esoteric that instruction might seem, Churchill knows the limits of her randomness. Still, that said it doesn’t harm the dazzle of either Churchill’s or Elmer’s vision.
This work broaches the limits of our capacity to take in information with overload and technical saturation, in a play designed to replicate intravenous Taurine on ice, a thrilling chilled-energy drink ride-till-you-crash info-freeway absorption: scenes of aspiration turned, declaration falling flat, news deferred or accelerated, destruction of hope, solitude and every human condition imaginable, quite apart from the many not seen here buzzing to be let in – Elmer brings out the feel that the work could expand and of course it could, almost to half a day.
This production works superbly for the most part, Elmer consummately alert as to how Churchill’s drama requires this rapid dissolve through the twenty-eight sections she’s chosen. The nine actors mill around in musical chairs interludes (chairs and sofas also wheeled on and off) and settle often into duets – Churchill doesn’t designate lines to speaker – and some of it thus come across like Turgenev’s duets on a trip.
Elmer and her cast improvised to trick out what the bare texts mean: Churchill liberates you but there’s huge work here. Thus in ‘Ex’ the couple in bed (a vertical hanging with an enthusiastic Elsa Noad and Daniel King) have had sex again after many years, but the touching conversation ends with Noad peeking at her mobile increasingly. ‘Sex’ has a sexual prelude so a discussion of generation becomes more bizarre than it might, taking a hint from the text.
Others like ‘Virtual’ and Schizophrenic’ more easily play themselves. In both these Scott Roberts shines as the weirdo fixated on a love interest which turns out to be a computer (his sceptical friend King appears on screen, a superbly synchronized affair); and in the latter he’s creepy, threatening. Others like ‘Memory House’ with the fine Jeremy Crow and Charlotte Sommers (excellent elsewhere too) require a little dumb show of imaginary items. ’Savant’ too proposes the human engines we create to deal with memory organically and compete with machines. ‘Facts’ which ends the entire sequence in Churchill is here moved to end the first half, where the screens tell us we’re in a departure lounge, forever. King tests Noad on unbelievably arcane facts, even formulae, as if they’ve been there a millennia. And she breaks out in an affirmative answer of love to a popped question set earlier in the middle, then goes on to answer the more difficult-than-usual question in a blink.
Others eschew the very information the work tackles, as in ‘Remote’ where Amanda Harman mordantly strips away her visitor’s questions, no signals of any kind penetrate here. ‘Mother’ where Amy Onyett and Dottie James interact as sisters at the opening and mother and daughter at the end where the newly-branded daughter (thirteen years younger) dismisses the new relationship: ‘I don’t think this works.’ The simple ‘Terminal’ with Noad and a bleached-out dignified Onyett etches Onyett’s tricking-out from Noad’s detached doctor just how long she might live. It’s over in five lines. Sommers and James Newton end the production’s sequence with ‘Grass’ about informing on a friend.
Each cast must flesh and reinvent these disembodied meditations. Churchill’s challenge emulates the information overload in its disembodied text that demands actors and audience collaborate with giving them a local habitation and several names.
It’s an exceptional production, with only tiny quibbles about vocal projection – two or three times it dropped just below audibility on punch-lines. It’s true Roberts had two prime parts, but he handled them with squirmingly good finesse. Sommers too brings presence and clarity. Others like Crow approach this level, and Harman’s stillness is charismatic.
This isn’t going to become one of Churchill’s best-loved plays, since we naturally tend to anchor preferences in her realised characters. But here Churchill negotiates just what love, information and conveying anything meaningful might be, and the forces in ourselves that conspire to negate this. Dazzling in depth, and fleeting caveats aside, Elmer’s production could hardly be bettered. Her remix works; everything she touches at NVT brings a pristine singing surface so we see the drama more clearly, like mercury stilled. Yet there’s a fibrillating heart. I do urge you to see it.