I’m not quite sure how it happens, but every time Caryl Churchill writes a play (and this is her first major work for six years), she breaks the mould. In some ways, Love and Information is a sketch show. In others, it's a detonating minefield of suggestion and pessimism.
For the 16 actors – including such leading lights as Linda Bassett, Amanda Drew, Susan Engel, John Heffernan, Paul Jesson, Rashan Stone and Sarah Woodward – it's a playground of mini-plays, dazzlingly exposed on Miriam Buether's unadorned stage, lit by Peter Mumford, and directed with a merciless wryness by James Macdonald.
Telling people things – "I'm your mum, Mum's your nan, OK?"; "ten per cent of people with this condition are still alive after three years" – can be devastating. But pure knowledge comes with cruelty: as in an extended dialogue (well, a couple of pages), expertly discharged by Woodward and Heffernan, about dissecting chickens' brains: learning takes place on the left side.
Sometimes the adults are children. Age is often indeterminate. A girl leaves a vertical bed: "I think I’ll get up and go on Facebook." I’ve no idea why this is funny, but everyone laughed. We hear of a child who didn't know fear and was eaten by a lion. Then of a child who didn’t know "Sorry". And a child who didn’t know pain.
Love is poignantly recalled by two ex-lovers remembering their affair (another couple of pages). Sex is different, that's information: you get two sets of genes and offspring that's not identical to you. These are word games of the highest order, ellipitical, yes, but not puzzling, and immediately comprehensible in the theatre.
Churchill writes with a different sort of sparseness to, say, Noël Coward or Harold Pinter. An impassioned argument can be distilled in half a sentence: "So we went to war on a completely… yes, but how were they to know?" Or a recent horror evoked in a phrase: "The black wave with the cars in it was awesome."
Observation leaks into vigilance, spying, censorship. Human life is mysterious but we know too much about each other and no-one is safe. You come away feeling down-hearted and anxious. Even actors have been deprived of their security blankets, characters to latch on to for a while before dissolving in the stew once more.