Last summer, Mrs Chrisparkle and I enjoyed our first ever visit to the Edinburgh Fringe, and one of the little gems that we missed was the remarkable mime drama, Light, performed by Theatre Ad Infinitum; so I was very pleased that we could have a second chance at seeing it. Sadly, after booking, Mrs C was called away to New York to have business meetings in -19 degrees temperatures and up to her neck in snow, so she still hasn’t seen it. However, as luck would have it, her returned ticket ended up being resold to my local blogging colleague Mr Small Mind at the Theatre, so we indeed formed something of a critical powerhouse in the middle of Row C.
The show runs for 70 minutes, a difficult time length to be the focus of an evening’s entertainment, unless you’re at the Fringe, in which case it’s the perfect length. But for the most part, if you’re going out for to see a show which starts at 7.30pm, you might feel a bit cheated if it doesn’t carry on a little past 8.40pm. However, Light is such an intense experience, with so much happening on stage in extremes of light and darkness, that it calls for major concentration by its audience; and if it had lasted much longer than 70 minutes I think I might have needed to be rescued from the theatre to be given some amphetamines to liven me up. It’s really exhausting (but worthwhile) viewing!
Timedate – the 21st century. Spacelocation – somewhere in the recesses of a thought police state, where everyone’s a scientist, a law-enforcer, or on the run. Cass has developed an amazing technology that allows thoughts to be transferred from one person to another by means of a coloured blob that you can pluck out of your head and then chuck to someone else, which they then in turn fit inside their brain. It’s like a thought email. But her partner – who is a bigwig in the government – has taken this force for good and corrupted it into a force for evil. And it’s their son Alex, a junior government agent, who is left to face the consequences.
The show was inspired by the revelations of Edward Snowden, and the ongoing debate about the role of an Orwellian Big Brother in our society. The totalitarian regime takes a positive invention and then manipulates it to take control of the people, by monitoring their innermost personal thoughts as well as what they say. What goes on inside our heads is one of the final bastions of privacy – no one can see inside anyone’s brain to examine and dissect their thoughts. They can record what we say – but our mind is a secret. In this 21st century state, anyone who tries to disconnect from the monitoring system automatically becomes a criminal, and is dealt with swiftly and ruthlessly. After all, if you’ve got nothing to hide…. Yes I’ve never believed that tosh either.
Visually, it’s a thrilling show. With both the stage and the auditorium plunged into darkness (hence the heartfelt request to turn off mobile phones because that really would spoil the illusion), you know things are happening on stage but you can’t see them. Suddenly a light appears and illuminates a face, an action, or a stance; then brief darkness again before another strikingly lit tableau where people will have changed position or attitude (or indeed, changed people). In another scene you might discover the bright bulbs along a table edge moving towards you, or upending on its side, serving as the show’s only real prop – apart from the very cleverly presented thought bubbles. The show consists of dozens (maybe even hundreds) of very short scenes like these, some perhaps only a few seconds long. The accumulation of scenes provides a gripping storyline, which, even though I confess I don’t think I understood absolutely, is full of drama, excitement and suspense.
The individual scenes are sometimes brutal in their depictions of pain or anguish, giving the whole piece a feeling of great savagery. It’s a world you really wouldn’t want to inhabit. The constant changes also give the show a terrific pace as well as intensity. Fast moving, exciting, dynamic; a constant challenge to your eyes to make sense of each developing scene; as well as to your ears, with its unsettling modernistic abstract soundtrack. There’s a sequence when the abstract noises are replaced by Beethoven; I found that a really moving contrast. There are also aspects of the story that are rather funny in a sentimental way – Alex’s parents first date is presented as a touchingly naïve and charming meeting, which only makes the subsequent reality of the technological ogre that is Alex’s father even harsher.
All this, and not a word spoken on stage; although there is a narrative voice over between some of the scenes. The strength of the performances comes across in the deftness of the scene changes, and the physical theatre aspect of how the actors work with their bodies, the way they occupy the stage. When it is revealed at curtain call that there are only five performers, you feel astounded that there weren’t half a dozen more. I don’t know to what extent the lighting plot is managed by a person or a machine; if the lighting sequence went wrong in any way it could really destroy the flow of the show – so whoever is behind that is an electronic genius.
A riveting 70 minutes that held a packed Royal auditorium enthralled – a true adventure in theatre. It’s touring until 16th February – and if you want to see something really different, this is a great opportunity.
You can read more about Theatre Ad Infinitum here.
Production photographs by Alex Brenner.