Caryl Churchill's new play at the Royal Court, Love and Information, gets the accolade of being the first play to give me a headache. A combination of bright lights, bright white box 'set' and the pace of the 58 vignettes that make up the whole, I think.
There is lots that is not just amazing but astounding about this play. It is, after all, 58 mini plays in one, staged in the aforementioned white box with darkness and a dark screen - you can't see it but you can hear it - shielding the swift scene and actor changes between each.
Every character is different, some scenes have no props others full blown pieces of furniture. As the lights and 'invisible' shutter reveal each new vignette, for the briefest moment it is as if you've happened upon a tableau of ordinary people in an ordinary situation.
When you look at the playtext, which serves as the very good value programme, you get an idea of the task faced by director James Macdonald. Churchill has presented a blank canvas, it is all dialogue but no characters. How each scene is played and by whom - male, female, young, old, gay, straight etc - is all open to interpretation. Macdonald could be forgiven if he felt just a little bit daunted by the task and it's testament to his skill and judgement that there isn't a decision that doesn't feel right.
With the longest scene just a few minutes they have to hit their marks and character with precision.
The challenge for the set design is to add enough variety to each vignette to keep it interesting - stand outs include the vertical bed in which an elderly couple lay chatting (pictured) and two boys lying top to tail on a vertical piece of grass.
As I say, there is much that is gobsmacking about this production and for that I loved it. But, for me at least, it has its flaws. The headache for one which combined with the constant scene changing after a while made it feel like an endurance. I likened it to an hour and 40 minutes sat with someone cable TV channel hopping.
When it was reviewed on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, Mark Lawson's guest reviewer, who was raving about it, described it as like confetti. Now that for me is part of its problem. Confetti is just a blur of fluttering pretty colours and you never remember any one in particular.
As Love and Information progressed I found my mind wandering. I mentally obsessed about how the actors, props and furniture arrived on stage with such brief interludes between each scene. I noticed a sticky label on the bottom of an actors shoe, the smoothness of the bottom of a foot, wondered what level of difficulty the cross trainer and cycling machine was set on etc and if that's what I'm thinking then it's not holding my attention in any meaningful way.
Reviews have mentioned themes but I walked away feeling frustratingly disconnected. For me there was no sense of anything in particular, its form was affecting but its content just washed over me. In many ways I loved Love and Information in that I can appreciate the craft and skill that has gone into it, it is an incredible piece of theatre. On the flip side the lack of engagement and it's fast, repetitive style made me feel inexplicably irritable.
For the production - acting, directing and staging I'd give it 5 stars but it's inaccessible content means it's scraping four stars.
Love and Information runs at the Royal Court Theatre downstairs until Oct 13.
There are two obvious direct ones both Cock-related in that James Macdonald directed and Paul Jesson appeared with Mr W.