Words by Ali Arief, Theatre Editor
Relationships, friendships, connections, and love. From adolescence to adulthood, we strive to understand love and affection and how it presents itself in all its forms. We understand that love can be romantic or platonic and can exist from all age groups to all genders. As human beings, we yearn and crave love. Yet, as we are in full swing into the Age of Information, how we communicate, and present love is now vastly different from how we communicated our affections thirty years ago.
Caryl Churchills ‘Love & Information’ was brought to life by Sussex Universities Drama Society (SUDS) last weekend.
Directed by Blessing Peters and Holly Bacon, the play performed the first live performance of the term, and it was astounding. Using a series of monologues and duologues, the play presented us with short scenarios of different couples facing different challenges and wins during their relationship with one another.
On a technical standpoint, this show shone with a minimalistic set, costume, and lighting design. However, this minimalism paid off extremely well as the lighting design was constructed to draw your attention solely on the actors and to create a space where you felt as if you were watching friends live out their life moments together. It was intimate, it was personal, and it was hard-hitting.
The selection of duologues chosen seemed intentional, each one relatable to many experiences that couples face together, but I what I especially enjoyed was that the cast itself was made up of exclusively Women and Non-Binary individuals. This bought a whole other dimension to the play, as often the stories of lesbian and bisexual Women are often not told on the stage, and it is even rarer to find theatre that depicts a non-Binary individual in a relationship. The choice to make this play inherently LGBT made me feel at home.
Due to the exceptional acting of each cast member, I felt as if I knew each character they were playing, as if I had walked in their footsteps, or as if they were my friend.
Each line was delivered with fervent emotion under careful direction, a lot of topics explored required this delicate handling and the Directors were able to artistically interpret dark themes such as domestic violence and Dementia with the utmost care. The actors themselves presented these themes maturely and sensitively, and where able to present a range of emotions within a short space of a couple of minutes, it was extremely impressive and ultimately heavily believable.
What I also found compelling about this piece was how relatable it was. Most of the scenarios presented were something I had faced in a relationship or friendship before, and I found myself in a deep sense of familiarity and nostalgia thinking back to the intimate relationships that I have cherished throughout my life.
I was keen to interview both Blessing and Holly about the production of this play.
What element of this piece are you most proud of?
Holly: The aspect of the performance I am most proud of is the overall flow and rhythm of the whole piece. After choosing our duologues from the play, me and Blessing careful constructed the order of the plays in order to create an overall narrative seen with the collection of stories. This was to create a turbulent overview of the glorious nature of relationships. We wanted to open with more lighthearted stories like ‘Fate’ and ‘Virtual’ which contained the more dark and philosophical undertones that are fleshed out later in the play such as in ‘Dinner’ and ‘Wife’. I believe that worked really well for us and it was satisfying to see it flow so effortlessly in front of our eyes.
Blessing: I’m most proud of the range of emotions and types of relationships we were able to explore within such a short run time. From rage to apathy – the detail and nuance the cast brought to each scene and line delivery was a pleasure to watch and made it easier to direct.
Was there anything that was challenging about this piece?
Holly: With any naturalistic format in theatre it is difficult for emotional moments to be perfected. It takes a lot for the actors to tap into emotions and experiences that they have never experienced before or more so did not want to imagine. It took a lot of time with me and Blessing working on specific scenes with the actors so that the required emotions and actions were being portrayed correctly to give the characters justice and to portray the message we wanted to in that scene. Luckily we had a group of very dedicated and skilled actors who worked hard to finesse their scenes, portraying their emotions perfectly.
Blessing: Working out how to transition between scenes. From the play proposal, Holly and I knew we wanted a naturalistic performance, but it took quite a bit of experimentation in the first few weeks of rehearsal to figure out the least disruptive transitions and staging. Holly did a lot of work creating documents outlining scene transitions and using lighting as the main cue (she literally had a colour-coded lighting and transition document) so props to her for that.
What kind of atmosphere did you hope to achieve throughout this?
Holly: When directing this play with Blessing, we wanted to create an emotional and turbulent atmosphere throughout. The audience are given little time to dwell in the emotions of a scene whilst also experiencing the characters emotions very brutally and raw. These are very pivotal moments in these characters’ lives that are being shown and it demands the audience to pay attention and to quickly understand that this moment is going to change everything in the characters lives and relationships. Having this process repeated over and over again is demanding of the audience but what I wanted to be caused by this is an appreciation of the audience members’ own relationships at how beautiful and complex they are.
Blessing: We wanted a sincere atmosphere – it’s why we were so set on having a naturalistic adaptation of the play. We wanted to give the dialogue a chance to shine on its own. The whole play’s about love, connection, relationship, the breakdown of relationships – and we wanted the atmosphere to create room for the audience to really feel those emotions. So a lot of the blocking and stage setup was designed with that in mind.
Why did you choose ‘Love and Information’ to open the term with?
Holly: ‘Love and Information’ is one of my favourite plays. The close inspection of a variety of relationships highly intrigued me from a directory standpoint as it excited me to work heavily on brief moments and to then move on to the next. The play also allows a lot of room for creative freedom from which stories you choose to show, the order of the scenes, how many people you have in the play and how you stage it. It allows for actors to adapt themselves with the play and not the other way around with me and Blessing choosing which scenes they where in dependant on their ability and the way they act. It also provided a good introduction to some of the actors’ first time acting and certainly for myself and Blessing as first time directors.
Blessing: So Holly originally approached me with the play, she talked about it in a really enthusiastic and passionate way that I figured I had nothing to lose by reading it. Once I’d read it, I understood Holly’s passion – it was beautifully simplistic and Churchill’s craft was evident from the first page. We also really liked the idea of creating our own version of the play by choosing specific scenes and then stringing them together to tell a story.