This Is Not Who I Am/Rapture at the Royal Court Theatre
It’s hard to know how to approach reviewing this play. Advertised as That Is Not Who I Am by unknown playwright Dave Davidson, the start of the play reveals that it is actually called Rapture by esteemed British playwright and screenwriter Lucy Kirkwood (who wrote the incendiary exploration of the adult industry Adult Material, aired on Channel 4 in 2020, amongst many other ambitious and lauded works). The play purports to have been written about “real” couple Celeste and Noah Quilter at the behest of a campaign group. A projection on stage tells the audience the home secretary attempted to block the investigation into the Quilters’ deaths. After “unsettling events” during her research, Kirkwood decided to adopt the pseudonym. We are told that the Royal Court has decided to break the embargo surrounding much of the information that follows. As dramatic devices go, it’s exciting and transgressive. The projection ends, “This story must be told now”, adding urgency.
The production then opens on the Quilters’ first date, occasioned by the well-known blind date feature in a national newspaper. What then follows is a complex exploration of democracy, privacy, conspiracy theories, climate change and the entrenchment of social media in our lives, through the prism of this young couple. It would not be in line with the spirit of the material to give too much away, except to say that the audience knows from the start that an unhappy end lies in wait for the couple. The two actors are excellent: Siena Kelly and Jake Davies are impassioned and vulnerable, relatable and sexy. The material demands a lot of them, and they more than rise to the occasion. Priyanga Burford as the stage version of Kirkwood is excellent, too – just as impassioned and outraged by the story she is relaying.
It’s clear a lot of work and talent has gone into this. Lucy Morrison’s direction mixes the light and dark of the work impressively, leading to a disturbing crescendo. Naomi Dawson’s stage design is clever and versatile, a rig spinning around as different parts of the Quilters’ home. The sound, lighting and video design (Peter Rice, Anna Watson and Gino Ricardo Green, respectively) mimics an over-saturated world with an unsettling edge.
Those of a nervous disposition may be advised to exercise caution as this is intense and overwhelming theatre. This is The Woman in White meets Black Mirror for the Twitter generation, but the ghouls here are real. It raises powerful questions. Apple et al’s iron-clad grip on our collective consciousness and Amazon’s access to willing users’ conversations in their homes is highly dubious: knowing what someone wants and worries about is powerful beyond what we actually let ourselves contemplate. As Jake says, “Data is the new oil.” The play is so dense with information and ideas that one could take away any number of different things. It is a complex and unwieldy work, with narrative tendrils that linger in the mind, both disturbing and necessary. It’s also very funny, before it becomes harrowing.
Kirkwood creates something sharp, sinister and impassioned. The writing is trenchant and of the zeitgeist, a smart crest of the tidal wave of information in which we exist. It leaves one wondering all the more: exactly what have we sacrificed for information (of wildly varying quality) and connection at our fingertips?
Photo: Manuel Harlan
This Is Not Who I Am/Rapture is at the Royal Court Theatre from 10th June until 16th July 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.