Caryl Churchill's new play at the Royal Court Theatre, London, until 13 October
Formally innovative as ever, in her new play at London's Royal Court theatre, Caryl Churchill continues to push the boundaries. Love and Information parades 100 different characters across 58 thematically linked scenes through their focus on information, identity, memory and love.
Churchill crafts simple, everyday scenarios that throw up big questions. Among them: How ethical is information gathering? What is justified to get it? And what is it used for? We witness everything from torture by the military to a hilarious scene in which a woman explains her job in animal testing, which involves chopping the heads off chicks.
How do we construct memory? And how does it shape our identity? We follow a couple and their family watching their wedding video, an ex-couple who meet to reminisce and an amnesiac who can remember nothing except his ability to play the piano.
Throughout the play Churchill returns to the same questions: What really matters? Is it love or life? And what threatens it: knowledge of an affair, or an inability to remember? Grand themes that criss-cross the drama are unpretentiously grounded in everyday life.
Always at the forefront in staging cutting-edge contemporary drama, Churchill is no stranger to the Royal Court, which is a bastion of new theatre writing. A self-professed socialist, she began her career influenced by Brecht and has reinvented, experimented and pioneered new material for the last 30 years, putting herself firmly in the canon of modern drama.
Churchill's earlier works include the recently revived Top Girls, in which the dialogue overlaps so that whole conversations happen simultaneously. In Blue Kettle the dialogue begins to be replaced by the words "blue" and "kettle" until eventually the dialogue breaks down completely. Her 2009 play Seven Jewish Children was only ten minutes long, but managed to poignantly and powerfully lament Palestinian oppression.
Love and Information continues this tradition. The play asks us to consider how meaning is constructed and to participate in the process. The script has no stage directions, the characters are not always clearly gendered, the scenes can appear in a different order, and there are some random scenes which can be inserted anywhere in the play.
This gives any director and company broad scope for creative input. In this production James Macdonald deftly uses theatrical resources to overcome the fast scene changes and echo the themes of the script. The set is sparse, a white empty box that the characters fill with themselves, limited props and the audience's imagination.
There is also some fantastic characterisation. However, I did feel this production was let down by the vantage point of the characterisation. The characters were drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, but the working class characters, although sympathetically portrayed, were very contrived.
Love and Information is well worth watching this time round but there is the potential for dazzling performances from other companies in the future.