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London stage hit 'Privacy' makes drama from data

Published on NewsOK Modified: April 25, 2014 at 8:34 am •  Published: April 25, 2014

LONDON (AP) — "Privacy," a new drama that has London buzzing, is probably the first play to open with a request that the audience keep their smartphones switched on. It's certainly the first to have theatergoers snapping selfies before the intermission.

By the end, they may be tempted to throw those phones out the window.

James Graham's exciting, interactive and alarming drama suggests that our smartphones and computers know us better than we know ourselves. The play asks whether privacy is dead in an era when millions share their innermost thoughts on social media, mobile phones act as electronic trackers and government snoops hoover up vast amounts of data on their citizens.

Graham insists the play is not arguing "that we should all dump our iPhones in the dustbin." Despite months of eye-opening research, he still has a smartphone and a Twitter account.

"We wanted to say, look, a lot of this stuff is amazing, but we have to keep constantly checking in and going, is the balance right?" he said. "The amount we share ... has changed radically in the past five years in a way I think it hasn't in the past 500 years."

The play, which opened this week at London's Donmar Warehouse, follows a fictional writer and a director — "better-looking, thinner, younger versions of us," quips the play's real director, Josie Rourke — as they explore the power of the Internet and the meaning of identity in an online age.

Graham — a 31-year-old wunderkind whose last play, "This House," made backroom British politics in the 1970s unexpectedly thrilling — conducted 60 hours of interviews with dozens of researchers, politicians, civil liberties activists and spies.

A cast of six plays everyone from the former head of British spy agency GCHQ to the inventor of the supermarket loyalty card and Cambridge University academics who say they can infer everything from political views to sexual orientation from an individual's Facebook "likes."

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden appears, too, as do the Guardian newspaper journalists who published his leaked documents revealing details of U.S. spies' ability to snoop on vast amounts of electronic communications.

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