This April has seen the opening of a brand new play in London, one which brings along an entirely new variation on audience participation to the fold. The play, simply named ‘Privacy’, is the latest creation from James Graham, who previously had hits with Tory Boyz and Olivier-nominated This House
Privacy, which opened on the 10April and to subsequent rave reviews, is billed as an exploration of how governments and corporations collect and use our personal information, and what that means for our security, our identity and our future.
The play is showing at the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, in the heart of London’s West End, and offers a unique opportunity for a very modern kind of audience participation.
Challenging the norm of traditional theatre, in which mobile phones are required to be silenced, Graham’s Privacy promotes open usage of his audience’s mobile phones. This is all part of his examination of the digital footprint which we are all creating and leaving behind.
During the first half of the two hour and thirty minute production, members of the audience are encouraged to take selfies and to then email them to a researcher; the researcher in question is sat quietly working away at a computer positioned at the back of the set, a part of the act themselves.
To reveal what happens to those selfies would be a major spoiler, yet it can be revealed that the audience are also actively encouraged to investigate their own phone settings and to Google for pizza.
The play itself has been in the making for the past year; it was after Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency revelations were leaked to The Guardian last summer that Graham sat down with Josie Rourke, creative director at the Donmar, and the writing and production really began to take shape.
Although he played a most important role as catalyst, and although the play is indeed very politically minded, Snowden himself is exempt from being featured in it; however several Guardian journalists, along with Lord Paddy Ashdown, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Sir Malcolm Rifkind all have key roles.
Graham and Rourke, the writer and director, even have characters based on them in the play, played by Joshua McGuire and Michelle Terry respectively, owing to an even more personal touch.
Graham recently admitted to the BBC that he had no way of telling whether people would get involved and interact with the play as he had hoped until the first performance. Having a different audience each night also means that each performance is therefore different each night; the information for the script is still being collated on the night. This level of spontaneity relies on a great amount of adaptability from his cast, about which Graham said it requires brilliance.
Whereas some critics may see Privacy as comment on our relationship with technology and sharing becoming too involved, the reality is far from this. Rourke expressed that part of the ambition of the show is purely to have people really understand the relationship between them and the data. For Graham himself, the modern limitations of technology, and how far it reaches, are exciting.
He said: “It’s great that Google allows us to search the internet. It’s great that Facebook provides me with the capacity to connect with my friends”.
And whilst this aspect of technology is indeed productive, his wish is that our trend of blindly accepting culture is questioned a little more deeply.
‘Privacy’ is running at the Donmar Warehouse until 31 May this year, with further tickets for the play being released each Monday throughout the run. For more information on the play, the venue or the tickets, visit the Donmar’s website: www.donmarwarehouse.com and head to the ‘What’s On’ section.
How do you feel our involvement with technology and social media further benefits our lives?