Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, London SW1
Opened 5 December, 2006

The best "Royal Court plays" comment keenly on the way we live both within ourselves as individuals and collectively, either in small specific groups or wider society. On that score, this unusual piece of work stands up well. Protagonist Claire is an "identity consultant", helping victims of identity theft to recover a sense of self-possession, people who want to improve their credit rating by re-tailoring their socio-economic profile, etc. Through her we are shown that to all practical intents we are the data on us: on what we buy, where we live... we are how we are seen. Literally so: the play takes place alternately in Claire's office and in an underpass outside, a dark and violent place despite CCTV cameras. Britain is now notoriously the most electronically surveilled country in the world; the average town-dweller may be recorded by over 300 cameras in a day. Yet far from this increasing our safety, the play suggests that there may be a generation which, having grown up with this concept, engages in violence precisely because they will be witnessed doing so – hence the use of phone-cams to record attacks.

This is a vast and potentially arid canvas, yet through Claire (Tanya Moodie), her young work-experience intern, her clients, casual lover and the teenage underpass underclass, the writers keep matters vital without, for the most part, getting confused or confusing. Writers, plural: for as part of the Court's 50th-anniversary celebrations it has revisited its occasional 1970s project of collaborative writing. April de Angelis, Stella Feehily, Tanika Gupta, Chloe Moss and Laura Wade each drafted two scenes which were then collectively worked into a whole. What is conspicuous is the lack of tonal inconsistency (apart from a poetic monologue near the end which sticks out like a dislocated thumb): Polly Teale's traverse staging keeps matters uniformly astringent... and, appropriately, lets the banks of audience watch each other as well as the events onstage. I could have done with some palpable sense of conclusion, but that really isn't so important here. Just as Dennis Kelly's Love And Money at the Young Vic makes for an imaginative yet sharp indictment of the climate of consumer credit, so the Catch collective ably pin the perils of the informational side of consumer culture.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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