Wednesday, July 6

That Is Not Who I Am – Royal Court

“Just cos it’s in your imagination doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Dave Davidson’s first (and possibly last) play is a conceit, wrapped in an enigma, inside just about every conspiracy theory on social media. Set in the style of those ever-popular true crime drama documentaries, the playwright acts as narrator, but he/she is also hiding in plain sight. Undercover due to alleged Government surveillance, writer Lucy Kirkwood (Chimerica, Mosquitoes) gives actor Priyana Burford the job of setting the scene and giving voice to the various possibilities of what actually happened. It’s the account of Noah and Celeste Quilter, who meet on a blind date, banter, lie to each other, get married, have a much-wanted baby and then fall down the rabbit-hole of conspiracy theories, all while in the grip of dreary domesticity.

The first inkling comes when Celeste mentions the supposed deadly nature of “chem trails” on their first date, something Noah initially scoffs at. With Celeste working all hours as a nurse at the outset of the Covid pandemic and Noah unemployed, he spends his days inhaling the more and more extreme elements of the internet. Celeste becomes burnt out during the pandemic, resigns (or is possibly sacked for refusing to be vaccinated), Noah becomes convinced that he and Celeste are under government surveillance because of his You Tube presence and gradually they withdraw from any outside connections. The two of them are left with just each other to trust and they feed into each other’s paranoia. It sounds crazy. But is there’s a kernel of truth among the more extreme notions? Lockdowns affect people’s mental health. The internet fuels wild theories.  The outcome of that combination is that Noah and Celeste are found dead together in suspicious circumstances in their East London flat in an apparent murder/suicide due to belief in “The Rapture”. Or alternatively, as their thousands of internet followers believe, this is an assassination by shady government agents who silenced them for “telling the truth”, a truth which the state doesn’t want Kirkwood to look into.

Photo: Manuel Harlan

The set, like Kirkwood’s writing and Lucy Morrison’s production, is clever, fluid and dynamic. The crew have the task of manually revolving the set and dealing with props and there’s really smart, integrated use of CCTV, social media posts and voice-overs.  Jake Davies and Siena Kelly are terrific as Noah and Celeste, totally believable in their relationship and their descent into madness/rapture.  The only disconnect comes in an occasional jarring tone between the rom-com jokes and the serious issues.

Nothing is as it seems. Are the Noah and Celeste we see the real couple, or are they actors in a reconstruction? In a world where we are increasingly bombarded with disinformation and “alternative facts”, much of what Kirkwood lays out appears to be true while wrapped up in chem trails and vaccine denial, challenging the audience to revisit their own view of reality and decide which parts of the story they can accept as real.

That Is Not Who I Am continues at the Royal Court Theatre until Saturday, 16th July. Tickets are on sale from: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/that-is-not-who-i-am/

Reviewer: Carole Gordon

Reviewed: 16th June 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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