A new touring production of Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information is an excellent showcase for its young cast from the UK's only performance degree for D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, in collaboration with leading Scottish company Solar Bear. Review by Paul F Cockburn.
Caryl Churchill’s 2012 play Love and Information is certainly unusual. It consists of 50 scenes (51 if you include the “epilogue”), none lasting much more than a couple of minutes—some are essentially dramatised jokes with speedily delivered punchlines. Most are written for two performers, although the original script deliberately avoids naming any characters, or including stage directions defining locations.
The challenge for any director and cast—the first professional production featured 16 actors—is ensuring the resulting kaleidoscope retains a focus in theme if not situation; it’s a challenge here that director Jonathan Lloyd and his cast meet well.
What Churchill is focused on in Love and Information is that we nowadays live in a world where we’re constantly bombarded by information, thanks to the near-ubiquitous presence of our “always connected” smartphones, tablets and laptops. In these oh-so-brief glimpses of different people’s lives, actions and relationships, Churchill gives us some sense of the potential consequences if we let technology take control—fading memories, increasingly confused feelings, and a slippage in what personal privacy means. There is an undoubted unease here about the ways in which digital communication can easily replace genuine face-to-face human connection.
This is particularly highlighted by one obvious aspect of this production by Glasgow-based D/deaf theatre company Solar Bear and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Lloyd’s cast of 10 are all final year students from the RCS’s new BA Performance in BSL and English Degree programme. So, quite deliberately, a significant number of the scenes are performed totally in British Sign Language, with a only a very small number in English, and the rest in a mixture of the two. Put centre stage, BSL here reinforces the implied value and importance of human connection within a physical spatial environment.
From a purely technical point of view, it also requires a large degree of captioning for the benefit of non-BSL users. Given the expertise of Solar Bear, the chosen fonts, font-sizes and colours used on the two screens—one positioned on each side of the stage—were fine. Indeed, there were numerous occasions when their speed highlighted just how fast BSL can sometimes impart meaning compared to written English. The only annoyance was the decision to just show the captions on the side of the stage where a particular scene was taking place, regardless of overall sight lines.
In terms of staging, though, this is my only gripe; this is a tightly performed, sharply directed production that successfully avoids just being a potentially gratuitous showcase for its young cast’s undoubted talents as performers. Though, of course, it’s that too; time and again, each scene showed them inhabiting their characters fully and immediately, imbuing them with naturalism, personality and a succinct sense of having lives beyond the confines of the scene. Given the general pace of proceedings, this is no mean achievement; encouraging, also, to know that there is such a talented range of D/deaf actors out there!