Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green gets a disturbing insight in to the ways technology is changing attitudes to personal space and the very idea of identity via James Graham's Privacy.

Privacy by James Graham The insidious monitoring of our online activity and the carelessness with which we allow it to happen provides the topical theme of James Graham’s new work Privacy, directed by Josie Rourke, at the Donmar Warehouse.

The protagonist is a self deprecating, 27 year-old playwright, the alter ego of Graham himself. His director, also Josie Rourke, gets him to talk to internet experts and immerse himself in social media. We see him interviewing politicians, academics, spies, a judge, journalists, as well as a psychoanalyst and a teenage girl. In the course of the playwright’s research, we learn a lot about the way people gather information about us and the uses to which it is put.

This is not so much a play as a theatrical collage relying heavily on the verbatim testimony of seven members of the Guardian staff and weaving elements of drama revue and documentary into a piece which addresses serious and urgent themes with a vein of raw humour to relieve the Orwellian angst. The audience is asked to keep its smartphones switched on, contrary to most theatrical requests before the curtain is raised.

Although Graham has created an ambitious work which probes the difference between privacy and secrecy and the changing nature of privacy in the digital age,  I found the lack of a definite storyline or narrative thrust, somewhat frustrating and reducing the overall impact of the piece.

A cast of six, led by Joshua McGuire as the troubled introspective playwright and Michelle Terry as the Josie Rourke character, perplexed by the fact that whenever she goes online she is offered pregnancy-testing devices as well as a Jonathan Coy in a number of establishment roles, cover everything from Edward Snowden’s security leaks and his revelation of how much information about private citizens the US and British governments have access to, to the fact that the most common item purchased along with a £4.99 bottle of Tesco Chardonnay is a pack of condoms.

I should add that there are many surprises in the course of the evening and we are left to reflect on the ways communication technology is changing attitudes to personal space and the very idea of identity.



Runs at Donmar Warehouse until Saturday 31 May 2014-05-01
Box office: 0844 871 7624

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