Caryl Churchill’s modern humanist document about modern anxieties and connections in an ever increasing technological based world, Love and Information, consists of 57 scenes accommodating more than 100 characters. A daunting prospect for many? Perhaps. But Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company and innovative director, Kip Williams, are putting a seriously new twist on Churchill’s play: eight actors in rehearsal without knowing what part they’ll play!

For Williams, thinking outside the box is normal as his body of work evidences. Williams made his mark just out of NIDA in 2011 with his bold staging of I Have Had Enough. He has played a superlative hand ever since with provocative and thought provoking theatre: Under Milkwood, Lord of the Flies and Macbeth to name a few.

Read on as Williams discusses process, casting, challenges and all things in between in this new project that propels he and his actors into the unknown… and they love it:

The play has only been staged twice before, both times with double the size of my cast, so there is an immense pragmatic challenge in realising this play of over 70 scenes and 140 distinct characters with just eight actors. However, that is also what makes this production so exciting – seeing this extraordinary ensemble inhabit so many different realities.

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be making the final decision on who plays what and in what order. After four days in the rehearsal room, the endless possibilities being generated by the cast are all thrilling and compelling, but eventually we will reach a point where I have to choose which combinations to go with.

I first read the play back in 2013. I had just directed a production of Churchill’s Cloud Nine and was eager to delve further into her writing. I was immediately struck by the play’s theatrical inventiveness and the almost Beckettian philosophy imbedded in the work, but I was initially unsure of how I would tackle it, so I put it to the side.

About six months later I got this excited email from my sister who had just seen the New York production. “You have to direct this play!” the email said. I went back, reread it, and was immediately struck by its similarities with Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, which I had staged for STC a year earlier.

I recognised the similar way in which it operated as a form of theatrical portraiture, and this sparked a flurry of ideas of how I might approach the staging of it. From there, I took it to Marion Potts and Andrew Upton, and made a case for it to be programmed. They both love Churchill, so that was half the battle won.

The atmosphere in the rehearsal room is incredibly playful, to say the least. For the first two days we read through the play three times following a method of random selection for who would read what scene. I would literally pull names out of a hat as we read.

The differing interpretations of each scene based on who was reading them was astounding, and we were all abuzz with the possibilities of where we might take the text. As well as not stipulating who is in what scene, Churchill does not stipulate where the scenes take place. To explore this we have most recently embarked on a process of interrogating the text through throwing the cast up on stage in any casting combination and allowing any actor to make an offer on where the scene might be set, forcing the other actor(s) to improvise in response.

We have also been playing with putting the scenes in different orders and finding the various rhythmic implications and tonal qualities of the plethora of combinations afforded to us. The play is in many ways like the score of symphony, only we get to decide which instruments it gets played by and which order the musical movements and themes get played in, and how loud and at what tempo.

Usually casting a play is about casting character, but in Love and Information, Churchill is not interested in character, she is interested in relationship and the exchange that takes place between two people.

The cast I have are highly gifted, and more than capable of playing virtually any of the roles in the show. As such, the final casting will be much more about what is the most interesting relationship to see in the scene.

The scenes mostly operate as duologues, meaning there are 28 combinations generate by the cast of eight. The final casting decisions will ultimately be about creating as broad a portrait of a city as possible.

The dialogue in the room is very open and collaborative. Indeed, the design team and I have designed the show specifically to be a piece of theatre that gets made in a rehearsal room by everyone involved. For example, without wanting to give too much away, the set elements are essentially the imaginative building blocks for an infinite number of settings. It has always been about creating a design that is open to the imaginative possibility of the rehearsal room and to the offers of different combinations of actors.

Love and Information is a play like no other. It has all the trademarks of a Churchill – sharp humour, intelligence, insight, beauty – whilst being the most formally inventive and unique work she has produced in years.

In both its form and content, it captures an energy of today that I’m yet to have seen represented on stage. On top of this, it asks big questions about how we relate to each other. It ultimately allows us to gaze deep into the mirror of ‘the now’ and see reflected back at us our complex reality of searching for meaning in a world of endless information.

Love and Information
June 12 – July 4

Sydney dates:July 9 – August 15

Marco Chiappi, Harry Greenwood,
Glenn Hazeldine, Anita Hegh, Zahra Newman,
Anthony Taufa, Alison Whyte, Ursula Yovich.

Photo: Sarah walker