Not One of These People, Royal Court, Martin Crimp, 2022
Photo by Carla Chable de la Héronnière
  • Theatre, Experimental
  • Recommended


‘Not One of These People’ review

3 out of 5 stars

Martin Crimp’s deepfake show is an out-there formal experiment that asks very hard questions about the ethics of authorship

Andrzej Lukowski

Time Out says

Avant-garde legend Martin Crimp’s latest show is only having a four-performance run at the Royal Court. While that presumably partly reflects the fact that its star – one Martin Crimp – isn’t up for a more intensive schedule, it’s also surely acknowledgment that ‘Not One of These People’ is more along the lines of an art experiment than ‘a play’ and that a six-week-run might be pushing it, even by the Court’s standards. 

Certainly Christian Lapoint’s production comes across as live art on a grand scale, although it’s very much a show about theatre.

At the start we’re drolly informed by a voice – Martin Crimp – that all the people we’re about to see are computer-generated avatars; none are ‘real’. A succession of images of these people – largely extremely convincing – pop up on stage, and an unseen Crimp narrates their thoughts: (‘I’ve never seen the sky looking so blue’; ‘I can’t resist antique coffee pots’). Although some thoughts are longer and more earnest, the effect is essentially absurd and comical. At some point Crimp casually wanders onstage. The portraits start to blink and goggle. Crimp fires up a couple of light rings and flicks on a camera and the faces become animated, moving in sync with his as he reads his lines off a tablet. They definitely don’t look quite right – they bulge a lot, and the programme absolutely can’t do hats – but it’s proper deepfake stuff.

There isn’t exactly a narrative at work, but there is a lot of people with distinct gender and racial identities: women talking about being women or Black people talking about being Black people. Seeing old white guy Crimp manipulate their uncanny valley avatars is unsettling; seek him talk about rape or the racism these characters have experienced does not feel entirely right. And yet… is this much different to an old white guy writing a play with a Black or female character? Eventually Crimp wanders off, leaving animated fakes with his voice to chat away to us for a while. Is this theatre at all? Or is his point that this is exactly what theatre is?

A formal dabbler who loves to muddy the moral waters, it shouldn’t be doubted that one, Crimp is clearly genuinely taken with the theatrical possibilities of deepfake technology and two, he is not for a second saying that nobody should be allowed to write plays about people who are different to them. Nonetheless, in amongst the more overtly weird moments – the improbably toothy baby railing against oil companies, for instance – it feels like it’s the more earnest bits that are the most unsettling. Crimp never says anything particularly offensive. But there is something creepy about how he manipulates a Black woman avatar to talk about ‘her’ race, even in a right-on fashion. And yet it wouldn’t be controversial at all if he’d simply written the lines for a Black actor to perform. But should it? 

Although there are stretches where it’s not even discernible whether ‘Not One of These People’ is live per se – as opposed to pre-recorded – it’s a very theatrical work, that ends with the reveal of an imitation of Crimp’s study. Eventually the fakes stop and we’re left with Crimp himself unleashing a forceful but almost incomprehensible speech: the fakes were easier to follow.

There is a trajectory to the show but not a narrative, and 100 minutes – and apparently 299 fakes! – can be quite a taxing watch. If Crimp and Lapoint were more focussed on the business of providing us with a zippy evening’s entertainment, they could probably have made it an hour long to much the same effect. But I don’t think Crimp is even slightly bothered about zippy entertainment. It almost feels a bit churlish rating something that’s so explicitly a short-run formal experiment, but critic’s gotta critique: ‘Not One of These People’ is maybe not unmissable theatre, but it’s an interesting and unnerving idea, a grand exercise in faking it that points to uncomfortable truths.


£15-£49. Runs 1hr 40min
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