It's often fun to go into a play with the bare minimum knowledge about it. Don't read every review ever written of every production ever performed. Don't read interviews with the playwright or various actors or performers to get their take on the play, just go in blind and make your own mind up. Don't be swayed by the opinions of those bloody reviewers (seriously, what do those knuckle-heads know anyway?), get what YOU get out of the play. Definitely don't read publicity for the thing because the publicity machine only has one thing in mind, and that's bums on seats. Don't even read the program before going into the theatre. Just wing it. Dive into the abyss. Let the story pull you in and weave its magic. Let the themes appear to you of their own accord. Let the plot thicken and the characters develop...
All I can say with regard to Love and Information is thank God I didn't do all of this on this occasion because without sneaking a look at the program in the foyer before going in, I wouldn't have had lonely clue what the hell was going on before me. Even armed with the knowledge my program provided, I'm still not game enough to say I completely understood what was going on.
Effectively, from what this knuckle-head can gather, British playwright Caryl Churchill has written something of a game or a puzzle of a play. The play is written in seven sections, each with seven scenes which can be played in whatever order suits the director. There are additional sections to the seven acted out which contain scenes that may or may not be inserted throughout the play. Ultimately there are 76 scenes on offer, involving around 100 characters, played in this case by eight actors. With me? Good, because I'm not sure I am.
So there is no linear narrative. No story, as such, but perhaps many micro stories, all involving questions of love and information, more of the latter than the former, I think. Character development? Yeah kind of, occasionally, in teeny weeny ways. The whole thing really is a big, jangly, often frenetic, sometimes moody, frequently funny collection of vignettes. As such, there isn't the exquisite satisfaction of being told a story. There is no sitting back and letting The Story pull you into its world. This creature is too chopped up, too fragmented like a smashed kaleidoscope for any of that tell-me-a-story stuff.
The play seems to be prodding us to think about the nature of information. We live in the information age, so it's not a bad question to ask. Information is all around us. We devour it, we send it, we are it. Literally, we are information, it's there in our DNA. Information can change the way we see a situation or think of a person. Sometimes we don't want to know certain information, or wonder if we would have been better off not knowing it. Some information we keep to ourselves as secrets; and is this better or worse for them (or us). Certainly, friendship and love can be turned on its head with the appropriate information.
In spite of the absence of the snuggly blanket of a big old story, this certainly was an engaging performance. The stage was stark and white with movable white blocks for props and backlit doorways around the stage through which the actors entered and exited again to make their hasty costume changes. Sometimes all the cast were on stage together, sometimes just an intimate two engaging in no more than an intimate two or three words. Settings were varied – domestic home; the office; a roadworks site; the gym; a psyche consultation room; a garden; a cemetery; a moving train carriage; a museum... sometimes it was non-specific, just friends in their bubble, swapping information. All scene changes were suggested by the choreographed rearrangement of these blocks by the energetic cast of actors.
The cast was brilliant. They had to chop and change myriad times and instantly change the tone from comical to tragic to mundane and back again.
The musical score by The Sweats was a large part of the performance and was all synthy energy early on, softening to some wonderfully haunting ambience in the late scenes. The last couple of scenes were actually quite wonderful. The reading of the... the symbolism of the... the argument about the... You really don't need to hear this information right now from me. Best go see it for yourself. It's well worth it.
A Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre co-production
Love and Information
by Caryl Churchill
Director Kip Williams
Venue: Merlyn Theatre | The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 12 Jun – 4 Jul 2015
Tickets: $35 – $60