There are circles within circles of investigations in Martin Crimp’s drama. Or is it undramatic? It is certainly an inquisition of history, authorship, theater and reality that seeks to expose, perhaps dismantle, the means of production in storytelling: how a story is delivered, who delivers it and how she is received in this theatrical space.
Not One of These People is directed and designed by Christian Lapointe and performed by Crimp himself. We get most of it through a screen surrounded by photographic equipment – somewhat appropriate for a room designed during lockdown.
Deep-fake technology is used to animate nearly 300 faces photographed on the screen, which are not real but created by artificial intelligence. The footage is first accompanied by a male voice-over – revealed to be Crimp, who casually walks the stage, reads a script, leaves – then brought to life by technology that maps Crimp’s voice and facial movements to theirs .
Central concerns are authorship and appropriation: static images wake up scary and the playwright is exposed as a technological puppeteer pulling his strings. The faces make big, inconsequential comments about the world around them. They discuss race and patriarchy. There are secret confessions, talks of love, violence, incest, sex and identity. There is humor, intrigue and shock in their words; it could be a series of starting points for a story but deliberately resists the gathering force of a cohesive narrative. In the final phase, we see Crimp behind the now transparent screen in what looks like a study. He reads, writes and listens to music, the faces talking all the time as if they were fictitious voices jostling in his head.
While this point is indeed made, it is dramatized without much elaboration, which comes to feel hypnotic and banal. The most interesting questions float around this central question. Is this film a play, for example? It is staged in a theatrical space, but it is also meta-theatre, reversing the concept of what a story is and exposing the relationship of the playwright to his staging.
Another question hangs over the characters and their “humanity”. The nuggets of thought and snippets of experiences are delivered by machines, but they sound and feel human. But this avenue of research is not developed and is explored in much more depth in David Farr’s A Dead Body in Taos, currently on tour.
It looks, in style, like a video installation you might find in a Tate backroom on a perpetual loop (Crimp also has a passing resemblance to Warhol), and there’s a rehearsal to the exercise, which doesn’t does not try to hide the fact that it is conceptual, deconstructive, cerebral and not dramatic.
But it also offers a reset for the public. The setting does not allow us to passively receive a story and there are questions about what we expect and accept as theater. It also shows how we collaborate to create the story: I find myself trying to connect the dots, finding themes, connecting with these little comments to create a bigger whole. In the end, it’s the most unusual thing I’ve seen in the theater for a long time, but its strength, as a game of ideas, doesn’t quite come under the skin.