Review: Love and Information - Caryl Churchill offends again, but only against theatre convention

By John Nathan, September 20, 2012
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Love and Information, Royal Court Theatre, London SW1

Susan Engel and Paul Jesson in Sleep, a scene from Love and Information

Susan Engel and Paul Jesson in Sleep, a scene from Love and Information

There has probably never been a play quite like it. In almost two uninterrupted hours this new offering by Caryl Churchill propels us through countless short, seemingly unconnected conversations. There is no plot, no setting — but for the giant white cube in which each conversation takes place — and for much of the time the play does not make much sense.

Yet it is good to see radical works, even if this one comes with a nagging doubt that it would not have made it to the stage if it had not been written by the Royal Court’s most revered living writer. It is a reputation won by groundbreaking plays such as Top Girls, which envisaged a dinner party populated by female historical figures, and overtly political works, such as the controversial Seven Jewish Children, which defined responsibility for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in entirely Jewish terms.

However, less well recognised is Churchill’s fascination with science and out of these tedious, funny and poignant exchanges, normally between two people but totalling 100 characters in all, one question eventually emerges — can the way we perceive the world and each other be trusted?

There is one scene in which a woman attempts to persuade a man that she is his wife. Its point is similar to that made by Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat — that everything we know is reliant on a functioning nervous system that collects information, and brains to process it.

James Macdonald’s production is beautifully acted, while Miriam Beuther’s cube design cleverly underlines that each scene represents a tiny slice of the human condition.

One of Churchill’s points here is that love too is information which needs to be processed like any complex equation. Yet sometimes the message is buried in banal exchanges — so deeply it might as well not be there at all.

Still, there is much that leaves you wanting more, sometimes not in a good way. The scene in which a sister gabbles out a family secret to her teenage brother — that she is in fact his mother while the woman he calls mum is his gran — is left frustratingly unexplored. It is as if Churchill is not interest in generating drama.

She is reaching for something she considers to be more profound, a sort of orbiting overview of humanity. Something a little less radical might have been a lot more satisfying. (www.royalcourttheatre.com)

Last updated: 2:16pm, September 20 2012