The play, set in and exploring cyber space and the potential within us that it can unlock, has already achieved a remarkable buzz, with one well-placed source describing it as "the internet play for our generation." Patrick Marber used the internet in his hit drama Closer, but there it was simply a means of communication — here it is an alternative universe where people can be themselves in acts of imagination that paradoxically reveal more about their "real" selves than the everyday façade that most of us take for reality.
Playwright Marcus Markou hopes that the play will be seen as the forerunner of a new trend in theatre: "We need to move away from plays where audiences simply watch issue-driven drama on a stage. There needs to be a relationship between the characters on stage and the audience."
Markou uses the analogy of the masks that the Ancient Greeks used, when analyzing the benefits of the internet: "The Greeks — and Peter Hall in his productions of them — believed in the use of masks, which were used to externalize the emotions, the characteristics of each role. And, in a sense, this is what the imaginative images that people are free to make up and use on the internet, to describe and project themselves, also do. They are, in one sense, masks, not our 'real' selves, but on the other hand these self-chosen 'masks' actually reveal a truth about ourselves to others that our 'real' faces don't."
Age - Sex - Location had its origins in 2001, when the initial idea was worked on by Markou and a friend as part of the Old Vic's New Voices program of workshopping ideas for plays. More recently he has worked extensively on the script with Pip Pickering, a 23-year-old director who won a Fringe First at Edinburgh last year, and who is Artistic Director of Balcony, a theatre company specializing in the 1920's and 1930's. Pickering's interest in this very twenty-first century play was immediate: "It was a fantastic script, even before we got to work on it, and Marcus' play speaks to younger people who have grown up with the internet as a means of communication. But it's more than that, it is a very theatrical piece that makes the most of what theatre can do but in an entirely original way. And the West End certainly needs something like this at the moment."
Pickering was used to organizing rehearsed readings when he was dramaturg at the Pleasance Theatre: "Rehearsed readings are a very effective way of presenting a piece to potential backers and to theatre people who might want to be involved with the production. Using actors on a stage, even if they are 'just' reading, brings a script alive in a way that a manuscript can't. Or, to be more precise, in a way that most people can relate to — only a relatively few people can see the full potential of a script simply from the printed page.
"I've recently come back from a month in New York, where readings are much more common than over here, and are advertised in the trade press and elsewhere. They're seen as events, and they attract a high calibre of actor to them: Stars feel that they can put something back into the industry by helping new plays reach useful audiences. That's what we're hoping happens when our invited audience comes to the Arts Theatre on June 19, because Age - Sex - Location certainly deserves a West End production!"
The rehearsed reading of Age - Sex - Location, directed by Pip Pickering, will feature Amber Agar, Anthony Biggs, Richard Durden, Mark van Eeuwen, Jane How, Ewen Macintosh and Sandra Patton.