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Stuart King

Review: THAT IS NOT WHO I AM (RAPTURE) at The Royal Court

A considerable amount of cloak and dagger hype has surrounded Dave Davidson’s first produced play now shocking audiences at the Royal Court — as befits a playwright who (as the blurb suggested), has worked in the security industry for nearly four decades!

“When Ollie has his identity stolen on the internet, it’s bad enough. But soon it’s not just his online life collapsing – his real life is being stolen too. Who is the person really doing and saying these awful things? And who can Ollie trust to see the real him when the world sees him as a monster? Did the real him ever exist in the first place?”

That is not Who I Am - Royal Court Theatre Priyanga Burford, Siena Kelly, Jake Davies in That Is Not Who I Am at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs. Photo by Manuel Harlan.

OR SO READ THE PRE-SHOW BLURB, but as red herrings go, this is one of the most elaborate and convoluted efforts in recent memory and extremely effective as a result. The play starts with a disclaimer and explanation by the Royal Court Theatre projected onto a screen at the front of the stage, which details that the real author is not as advertised and that the play is actually a tragic human interest story with an altogether more sinister and disturbing twist, which by necessity has had to be disguised due to possible action by the Home Office, or worse.

Opening with a young couple at an arranged dinner date, we meet Celeste and Noah just as their immediate and obvious mutual attraction begins to develop. Set in the recent past, they’re soon cohabiting and then married, all the while feeding their mutual fascination with the reasonably rational end of the conspiracy theory spectrum. Of course, their interest gradually takes ahold during the Covid crisis lockdown as largely unemployed Noah occupies his time by posting online videos, which soon receive support and contributions from his stressed NHS geriatric ward nurse wife. Throw into this volatile mix, the conflicting frustration and urgency of trying to conceive a child which would be brought into a world which both believe is riddled with corruption, greed and misinformation.

Lucy Kirkwood — prize winning author of Chimerica among others, has created a conspiracy theory within a conspiracy theory play. In doing so, in Rapture, she has deployed stage hands and even a fake pregnant version of herself to assail the audience in this elaborate hoax which both vindicates and pours scorn on the entire notion of big brother, its insidious control of democracy and the guinea pig mentality of the masses (who in craving entertainment) have ceased to question the trivialised and censored information which is spoon fed to them. There are many clever and insightful observations, but look out for a brilliantly succinct moment which challenges the pay-off of retaining the Netflix entertainment service after it has been identified as a contractually legitimate spy in the living room. Like many others, this moment neatly encapsulates the conundrum of juggling freedom with the perceived connective necessities of modern social living.

Rapture (This Is Not Who I Am) is a play for the age and extremely well considered and contrived. It is delivered by the the polished pairing of Jake Davies as Noah and Siena Kelly as Celeste. Their charmingly natural on-stage chemistry is driven by a jittery narrative supplied by Priyanga Burford who plays narrator / journalist / writer, Lucy Kirkwood.

With a repeatedly turned set by Naomi Dawson, sound and lighting design by Peter Rice and Anna Watson respectively and additional video projections by Gino Ricardo Green the complicated and exacting requirements of the script are well realised, leading to a shocking yet predictably dark ending.

Will it run as long as The Mousetrap? This reviewer doubts it. Does the piece deserve a questioning and engaged audience? Very much so. This is a serious, enlightened and entertaining piece of theatre writing, delivered with style and panache by all concerned.