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A CurtainUp London London Review

"Identity will be the most valuable commodity for citizens in the future, and it will exist primarily online. Online experience will start with birth or even earlier. Periods of people's lives will be frozen in time, and easily surfaced for all to see."
— Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen the New Digital Age © Google Inc.
Jonathan McGuire as the Writer and Jonathan Coy as an expert witness (Photo: Johan Persson)
James Graham's latest documentary play, the result of much research, looks at the intrusion into our private lives of the internet, where we have freely shared much about ourselves. This data is being accessed by government agencies and we have no control over how it is used. It sounds rather dry but I can assure you, it isn't, as James Graham has devised all manner of interesting audience involvement.

We open with Paul Chahidi as the psychoanalyst treating the patient Joshua McGuire, the 27 year old writer with a fear of "today's culture of pathological intrusiveness." Michelle Terry appears as the director (maybe a caricature of Josie Rourke?) and she puts on the house lights while Joshua's introspective character kills them, repeatedly. The backdrop is of finger prints and each time a new character is introduced the back screen has a "post it" note telling us who it is, their role and how old they are. This device keeps us on track when the actors are playing many roles in quick succession.

Onstage an internet researcher churns out information as he hacks into phone, Facebook and Kindle records. The design uses screen shots and graphs and data.

There is a debate on the difference between secrecy and privacy and someone quips that whereas "Hogwarts is secret, Eton is private". We hear some comments from politicians William Hague and Paddy Ashdown, and Shami Chakrabarti (Nina Sosanya), Director of Liberty before the audience are invited to play with their phones. Unusually we are asked to keep them switched on. The question, "Is it wrong to .....?" is auto-completed by Google in an amusing way.... you try it! Many more great interactive jokes follow but I can't relate them here without spoiling the show for those of you who will be fortunate enough to see it.

We go on to explore the thoughts of Clive Humbly, the inventor of the shopping reward card or Club Card and look at the buying options that pop up when you buy a baseball bat. Eeerily, we are told that the supermarket is the first to know when you are pregnant because of the shopping choices you make that are different.

A journalist tells us that there is no English law of privacy as they explore a post code mosaic of the people in the audience who have consented for their addresses to be used. Social networking sites of course reveal much about us that we have volunteered which leads on to discussions of the government agencies GCHQ and in America, NSA.

Our phones are switched off after the interval. Act Two makes serious points about Edward Snowden, the NSA analyst who spilled the beans on the US government's collection of phone metadata with an interview from Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill (Jonathan Coy). On a lighter note, a blind date for The Writer will end with uncanny revelations.

Josie Rourke's production is fast paced, stimulating and original with many moments of high comedy and satirical, smiling wit proving that political plays don't have to be worthily dull. Paul Chahidi is especially adept at switching characters and accents and the titles help us keep up. Joshua McGuire is well cast as a slightly stuffy, self absorbed young man and Michelle Terry, as ever, shows her versatility and brilliant timing. Nina Sosanya is an interesting actor with nuance. Gunnar Cauthery completes the cast, often as Edward Snowden. The programme wittily redacts with black print sections of the biographies as if the censor had ordered concealment.

Highly recommended and topical!

I'd love to tell you more but it's secret.

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Written by James Graham
Directed by Josie Rourke

Starring: Gunnar Cauthery, Paul Chahidi, Jonathan Coy, Joshua McGuire, Nina Sosanya, Michelle Terry
Designed by Lucy Osborne
Composer: Michael Bruce
Interactive Content Designer: Anthony Lilley
Projection Designer: Duncan McLean
Sound: Christopher Shutt
Lighting: Richard Howell
Infograph Specialist: Valentina D'Efilippo
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624 but 300 tickets are released every Monday for future performances
Booking to 31st May 2014
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd April 2014 performance at the Donmar Warehouse , 41 Earlham Street, London WC2H 9LX (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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