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A CurtainUp London London Review
Love and Information

What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
I’ve heard that one.— Zen
Love and Information
John Heffernan and Amanda Drew in Memory House (Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
In a seemingly eclectic collection of 58 scenes with 16 actors playing over 100 parts fitted in to less than two hours, Caryl Churchill gives us a fascinating portrait of the human condition. The only down side of this varied production is the difficulty of reviewing it because of the diversity and number of the scenes.

The opening one , The Secret, is a situation I recognise.. He (Amit Shah) wants to know. She (Nikki Amuka-Bird) doesn’t want to tell him. He tries every argument in the book as to why he needs to know the secret and she counters. We have heard all these arguments, even used some of them ourselves. The situation is known but in the hands of Churchill and director James Macdonald, it is spellbinding theatre. He asks repeatedly and she persistently refuses until the switcheroo when she says she will tell him and he says, “You don’t have to”. The lightness of touch makes us smile.

Miriam Buether’s set, tiled with white tiles later lit differently, her stage outlined in small beaded lights, sees each scene open and close like the shutter on a camera in these snapshot scenes.

This is the play for those with a short attention span as no scene lasts for more than a few minutes. Each of the seven sections has one sometimes longer scene entitled depression which looks at the painful aspect of modern life, scenes some of which were inserted after the text went to press. The text itself is a fluid affair with just the lines, no actors allocated to the lines nor scenes set and director and cast must have worked hard to bring it all together. Credit too goes to the stage manager for coping with the logistics of how to spread the cast among the scenes to give such a seamless and slick production.

In the first section on the arcane, in Lab Sarah Woodward is on a picnic with her boyfriend (John Heffernan) describing in agonising detail what happens when a gruesome experiment is carried out on day old chicks to test the effect of stimuli on the brain. In Fan we learn about obsession when two girls (Scarlett Brookes and Laura Elphinstone) in a bizarre competition list off all they know about a celebrity heart throb’s favourite things garnered from magazines and panic at something they don’t know about him. In Remote, Linda Bassett plays host in the country to Amanda Drew with no wi fi, no phone signal, no television, no radio as the playwright looks at our dependency on the accessibility of information.

Some scenes are life changing, shocking but amusing. In Mother Josh Williams is the teenage boy suddenly told by his sister (Laura Elphinstone) that she is his biological mother and the woman he calls Mum is his grandmother. In Linguist Linda Bassett asks Josh Williams how many languages he knows the word for table and after being amazed, she concludes that she “can’t help feeling it actually is a table”. In Chinese Poetry four actors, (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Sarah Woodward, Paul Jesson and Rhashan Stone) speculate on the meaning of a line which translates as mountain girl door with permutations of interpretation. The word play is fun!

The actors have a range of cameo parts and they are handpicked, carefully cast and the whole production is like a showcase of their skill. Sarah Woodward is outstanding, always interesting Rhashan Stone has a wonderful languid presence and Amit Shah is soulful with expressive body language. Paul Jesson, Linda Bassett and Susan Engel represent the older generation, all consummate professionals. Interesting are John Heffernan, Laura Elphinstone and newcomers Josh Williams, Scarlett Brookes, Billy Matthews and Joshua James. Nikki Amuka-Bird and Justin Salinger are always watchable and inventive.

Such is the stimulation of an interesting collection of ideas, situations and moments that I’d really like to see Love and Information again. This thoroughly entertaining new collection is Caryl Churchill at her most quirky and accessible.

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Love and Information
Written by Caryl Churchill
Directed by James Macdonald

Starring: Nikki amuka Bird, Linda Bassett, Scarlett Brookes, Amanda Drew, Susan Engel, Laura Elphinstone, John Heffernan, Joshua James, Paul Jesson, Billy Matthews, Justin Salinger, Amit Shah, Rhashan Stone, Nell Williams, Josh Williams, Sarah Woodward
Set Design: Miriam Buether
Costume Design: Laura Hopkins
Musical Director: Simon Deacon
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Choreographer: Stuart Hopps
Stage Manager: Laura Draper
Running time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking to 13th October 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th September 2012 performance at the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Royal Court, Sloane Square London SW1W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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