Privacy – Theatre Review

Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

I love the Donmar Warehouse as a theatre venue as the small space allows for no bad seats and maximum intimacy; you’re never going to be more than 20 feet from the actors which is a stark contrast to sitting in the third circle of the majority of West End theatres. As fond as I am with the venue I hadn’t managed to see a play there that had really got to me; I’ve seen four or more plays there over the past through years, including the excellent Inadmissible Evidence, but none had given me that special feeling of having seen something new, thought-provoking, and all together special.

This changed a few nights ago when I went to see James Graham’s new play Privacy. A patchwork play consisting of scores of interviews with journalists, politicians, and those in the know is tied together by the presumably partly fictionalised story of the Writer (Joshua McGuire) researching the play under duress the Director (Michelle Terry). As the Writer discovers how we all share too much information through social media, just by having our phones turned on, and simply by what we Google so do the audience and an ensemble cast flit from character to character to deliver verbatim dialogue.

The staging is simple with a few items of furniture providing half a dozen locations, sometimes all at once, and the backdrop is a large screen onto which is projected the digital fingerprints of the audience/the contributors/the world in general. The screen was vital in keeping track of what characters were on stage at any one time as helpful documentary style captions accompanied their appearance and it was also utilised to demonstrate the various discoveries and revelations regarding privacy that the Writer had uncovered. Imagine a giant iPhone showing the recommended purchases on Amazon or the leaked NSA and GCHQ slides being presented to the audience as if in an online surveillance training seminar.

From Amazon to GCHQ Privacy certainly runs the gamut when it comes to organisations accessing our personal data. Some of the quirks of online advertising or how we present ourselves on Facebook are shown as an almost fun quirk. The idea that brands were getting to know us by snooping on our activity generated more surprised laughter than gasps of horror as we all sort of know it’s happening and don’t know whether we approve or not. I should confess here that when not writing here I have another job with the word “data” in the title so perhaps was more aware going in than most. It was when the play turned to the behaviour of government agencies that a chill set in amongst the enraptured audience.

Paul Chahidi and Joshua McGuire in Privacy Photo by Johan Persson

For the most part Privacy has a light, lively air with what could be quite dry facts presented in amusing ways with huge diversity in delivery. Amid all this fun and frivolity is a message about the very real danger of having our privacy invaded. Once we were all suitably amused and relaxed the play pulled the rug from under us and suddenly we weren’t laughing any more. Without going into details the evening ended with me feeling complicit in the very thing we were earlier worrying might be happening to us.

With a strong cast lead by Joshua McGuire and Michelle Terry Privacy leans on its cast to make what could be an unpredictable show really work. The rest of the ensemble cast, Gunnar Cauthery, Jonathan Coy, Nina Sosanya, and (my personal highlight) Paul Chahidi, switch between characters with ease and distinction.

As a whole Privacy is an endless entertaining, informative, scary, and funny evening at the theatre that feels a little too real. It took days for me to stop telling everyone around me as much as I dared about the show and the moment I got home my Facebook profile underwent a minor overhaul. If Privacy lacks anything then it is a real plot beyond someone writing the play itself. There is a last-minute attempt at a narrative but it doesn’t quite come together and, arguably, it wasn’t really needed. The ideas explored within Privacy and the way they are presented are grand enough to stand on their own.

In summary Privacy is the play I have been waiting for and it is essential viewing for anyone whose ever wondered why they see the ads they do online or wondering how much the government, and advertisers, know about what they’ve been up to.

Privacy runs at the Donmar Warehouse until May 31st 2014 and a West End transfer is surely in its future. I urge you to go and see it in this intimate space; in a theatre so small that when the light go up you see the other half of the audience sitting across from you in a manner that feels suddenly violating after the evening’s events. The final batch of £10 Barclays Front Row tickets (your last chance really to see the show) go on sale at 10am tomorrow morning at the Donmar Website.

One last thing… If you are asked if you want to take part, go for it. I did and have no regrets. And remember, “If you have nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”

Felicity Jones and the Wise Move

Earlier this year Felicity Jones made a very rash decision for a young actress on the rise; she left a big budget film in which she was the lead to honour her commitment to a play in an off-West End theatre. In July of 2011 Felicity Jones starred in the Donmar Warehouse production of Luise Miller and abandoned the role of Snow White in Mirror, Mirror. Surely this was a huge mistake?

Before we decide, why not take a peak at the new trailer for Mirror, Mirror:

So while Jones gained acclaim for her role in Luise Miller and buzz built over her role in Like Crazy, Lily Collins has taken over the role of Snow White in a film with a much derided trailer which pales in comparison to its rival Snow White and the Huntsman. In all honesty I can’t even bring myself to watch the entire trailer for Mirror, Mirror, but I doubt the final 30 seconds showcase any better footage than the rest.

Since making the best career choice of her acting life Jones has filmed a second film with Like Crazy director Drake Doremus opposite Guy Pearce and signed on to Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic. I will never question her decisions again.

If you fancy seeing what Felicity Jones would look like in the Snow White role, hover your mouse over the image at the top of this post (please do, it took me hours to do).

Inadmissible Evidence – Theatre Review

Excuse me while I try to talk about theatre…

Inadmissible Evidence is a 1964 play written by John Osborne in which William Maitland plays an alcoholic, womanising solicitor who puts himself on a metaphorical trial for his failed life and sordid behaviour. Normally performed as a drama, for obvious reasons, but the Donmar production directed by Jamie Lloyd instead presents the play as more of a comedy; Douglas Hodge in the lead role brings a huge amount of energy and humour to the stage, contorting his face and throwing his body around.

In the first act Maitland is full of fun, tormenting his staff and avoiding calls from his wife and mistress. After the interval the tone shifts to one of despair as the people he has surrounded himself with start to desert him and Hodge is given the opportunity to show the full range of emotions. In true theatrical style there are monologues galore; Al Weaver performs a moving speech as a gay man refusing to deny his sexuality and Serena Evans plays a series of women suffering at the hands of their husbands. Born from such a vibrant beginning the dark and dramatic conclusion to the play is all the more effective.

Karen Gillan, surely a huge draw after her role in Doctor Who (I admit to nothing), plays a small but key role very well in her theatre debut. It was hard to keep my eyes off her even when she wasn’t directly on-stage, made possible by some clever staging allowing “off-stage” actors to be visible through frosted glass in the back office. The Donmar Warehouse certainly knows how to put together a good set. With such a small auditorium, the stage felt less like a solicitor’s office built in a theatre but more a theatre built around a solicitor’s office. The whole stage was wonderfully grimy and cluttered.

Daniel Ryan was solid as Maitland’s right hand man whose loyalty is slipping, as was Amy Morgan as the fun new secretary willing to put up with Maitland’s lecherous advances. The real star of course is Douglas Hodge, the poor man never leaves the stage and gives the role such energy and charm it’s a wonder he manages 8 shows a week.

If theatre, cinema and TV are good for anything it is to make you feel something, and Inadmissible Evidence built me up and knocked me down. Well worth the reasonable-for-theatre ticket price.

Inadmissible Evidence is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 26th November 2011.