First published in The Times, Saturday November 18 2017
This new production of Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play is intriguing on a number of levels. Firstly, there’s the work itself: less a play than a series of more than 50 short scenes exploring the information onslaught of the digital age and its impact on our thought processes and ability to forge meaningful connections.
Also notable is the fact that this first major production of Churchill’s work in Scotland brings together the Glasgow-based Solar Bear, which provides professional opportunities and training for deaf actors, and ten final year students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s BA Performance in British Sign Language (BSL) and English, the first course of its kind in the UK.
Pic: Julie Howden
Jonathan Lloyd, the director, has said that he chose Love and Information as his first production in charge of Solar Bear because it does not address issues or subject matter solely related to deaf people. It feels like a shrewd choice, nonetheless, with the play’s multiple vignettes providing the ideal showcase for an ensemble’s versatility. Equally, so much of the play is themed around communication, whether verbal or non-verbal or through devices such as phones and laptops, that the presence of deaf performers, speaking, lip-reading and using sign language adds extra layers of poignancy to the writing.
As the script doesn’t contain stage directions or supply characters’ names or genders, it is also a flexible framework for improvisation and interpretation. It is refreshing to encounter a production in which fluid gender and sexuality is integral and yet treated as so much a part of life that it is not worth comment.
Pic: Julie Howden
The multifaceted work is, inevitably, a mixed bag. Some of the sequences (whose length varies from around a couple of lines to several minutes) are perfectly polished miniatures while others feel incomplete, lacking drama. Many are laugh-out-loud funny, including the scene in which a man interrupts sex in order to explain to his partner why living creatures procreate. Another episode, in which former lovers reminisce, only to find that they have completely different memories of the same incident, is piercingly sad.
There is much to enjoy in Lloyd’s production, and the mix of signing, speech and supertitles is well integrated, even if a busy staging, including large items of furniture that must be moved around by the actors, and some unnecessary props and elements of costume, at times inhibits its pace. While a tighter focus on the script and performances would make for a crisper, punchier show the strong cast does tackle Churchill’s dizzying proposition with fervour.
Touring Scotland to November 23. Solarbear.org.uk