Privacy (Donmar Warehouse, London) – review by Carole Woddis.

 

Whether it’s personal, legal, or political, `privacy’ is on everybody’s mind.

How much privacy do we want? Who wants it? for what purposes? And how is it to be rightfully retained or penetrated, if the Third Estate deems it necessary in the name of `public interest’.

Last week, Mike Bartlett’s entertaining Charles III (Almeida) showed the putative monarch getting himself into very hot water for refusing to sign a Bill going through Parliament on Press Regulation and Freedom.

Now comes James Graham’s equally enticing Privacy examining some of our new found gains from the worldwide web and some of its very sinister implications in a hugely entertaining format.

As if there weren’t enough food for thought in the subject, Josie Rourke’s production of Graham’s hurtling drama plunges us full tilt into the maelstrom that is today’s social media world by creating possibly the first West End interactive production.  Far from banning the use of mobile phones in the theatre, they’re positively encouraged, at one point the audience being invited to take and send in a selfie whose global journey back to the Donmar is later traced large onscreen.

But that’s only one of the many tricks Rourke, Graham and their team have up their sleeve, or should one say, at their fingertips.  Utilising every means at their disposal available from a keyboard (and a word of praise here to researcher Harry Davies who operates the laptop on stage throughout the evening), the definition of `privacy’ and its latter-day manifestations are explored through the old device of a play-within-a play.  The play we are seeing is the play the `director’ (could it be Rourke?) is commissioning the `writer’ (could it be Graham?) to write and, by the by, subject himself to an inner examination of what `privacy’ means to him personally and in the outer world.

One revelation after another tumbles out onto the projected screen as Privacy, the theatre production gives expression to the `writer’s thoughts as he ploughs through gigantic amounts of information and in so doing, demonstrates how our `privacy’ is being corrupted.  Our every move is now monitored online, profiled by Google, club cards and the rest, the more to target us commercially.  Eventually it culminates in the intensely embarrassing, not to say voyeuristic moment when an audience member, previously signed up as willing to be involved in the evening, is hauled out and every nook and cranny of her life revealed to the wider audience.

A graphic demonstration if ever there was one of intrusion into private territories, old and new ways of communicating clash up against each other within a whirling, rich concoction showing how collectively we are agreeing to sacrifice privacy for convenience and the State’s part as interloper.

The end result, a thrillingly original evening, smashes the `fourth wall’ to create a wholly new form but also recalling older forms such as music hall.

A superb cast – Gunnar Gauthery, Paul Chahidi, Jonathan Coy, Joshua Maguire (as `the writer’), Nina Sosanya and Michelle Terry (`the director’ amongst many other personnas) – cover a vast range of characters and personalities with infinite speed and skill.

This is one time when inter-activity becomes a collective occasion from which we all gain benefit.  The Donmar have shown us the future.  What will we do with it?

Privacy is at the Donmar Warehouse to May 31.

see www.donmarwarehouse.com.

© Carole Woddis.  April 2014.