Love and Information review – Caryl Churchill's vignettes find new form

Sheffield Crucible
Director Caroline Steinbeis takes up the gauntlet by reshaping and mining Churchill’s 57 fleeting scenes for less obvious meaning

Scripts are both instructional and nebulous. They establish the outline of a performance, but they also offer limitless possibilities. Few plays make this duality clearer than Love and Information. Caryl Churchill’s note on the text frees the director to edit and reshape, yet each of her 57 sparse scenes – stripped of character names – seems nonetheless to suggest certain groupings, certain relationships, certain personalities.

Caroline Steinbeis, directing the play’s regional premiere in the Crucible Studio, takes up the gauntlet thrown down by Churchill. Where James Macdonald’s original production snapped swiftly between naturalistic, self-contained scenes, often taking the path of least resistance, Steinbeis mines Churchill’s fleeting vignettes for less obvious meaning. The intimate exchanging of a secret becomes a whispered conversation between priests in church. An abstract discussion about irrational numbers is staged as a Question Time spat.

There’s also an effort to string together Churchill’s disparate scenes, placing clusters of scenarios within the same frame. Different groups of characters stroll through the same gallery, or different conversations are played out in the same cutesy set-up of a kids’ TV show. At times, unexpected resonances bounce between otherwise disconnected moments; at others, the setting sharply undercuts the dialogue. Throughout, designer Max Jones’s simple grid of doors and windows, stylishly lit by Johanna Town, is as versatile as the shape-shifting cast of six.

Too often, though, it feels as though Steinbeis is straining for cohesion. It’s exciting to see a second production so different from the first. But in binding the text together with a series of concepts, this new version also ties down meaning. The floating, diverse forms of Churchill’s writing are all forced into a limited number of shapes.

• At the Crucible, Sheffield, until 14 July.

Contributor

Catherine Love

The GuardianTramp

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