Light is a kind of cross between “The Ipcress File” and Berkoff’s adaptation of Kafka’s “The Trial”. It’s a gob-smacking fusion of eyeball-searing, seizure-inducing LED lighting and heavily metallic, eardrum-shattering industrial music: if it doesn’t blow your mind it can only be that you have already suffered the state-sponsored psyche-manipulation that the show depicts.
Theatre Ad Infinitum’s talented troupe of five elasticated performers, extraordinarily marshalled by director/deviser George Mann, has commandeered the medium of mime to relate the “cautionary tale” of everyday sensory deprivation or how the secret guardians of The State, yes, and they mean OUR state, are imposing their will on all of us. They are basically saying “Watch out! They are f*cking with your mind!”
I say “mime” – and these are wonderful exponents of the discipline – though I would suggest that the company – and this show – is possibly nearer the physical theatre end of the genre practised by, say, Frantic Assembly rather than the subtler craft of Le Coq and Nola Rae. Light is an in-yer-face explosion of rampant physicality rather than the mild-mannered, more-tea-vicar? approach of in-depth characterisation.
Not wishing to give too much of the plot away (not that there is much to give away) the story revolves around a mind-blanked agent who ends up thinking he is slitting the throat of his megalomaniac, James-Bond-Villain-type-bent-on-world-domination-through-thought-control father when in fact he is actually despatching his Nobel-prize-winning mother who invented the thought control in the first place before being cast into the wastelands (eat your heart out TS) and becoming the rebel leader. Still with me? Come on, keep up.
It’s a mind-bending mirage with disembodied heads and limbs and hands clutching at our inner insecurities and telling us to get straight onto Facebook and delete anything incriminating – and by incriminating I mean anything that shows us to have individual, non-state-sponsored thoughts. The logical conclusion to this, though, is that, if it is so inclined, the State can hack into any aspect of our internet lives and plant anything that it wants. I’ve never been entirely convinced by the argument that suggests that GCHQ wants to know stuff like: “Running late. I’ll pick up pizzas on the way” so Light’s message, perhaps, errs on the side of overkill.
Despite that, it’s a fantastic tour de force. Deborah Pugh plays the central role of Cass – the mother – and she lurches from winsome dreamer to hard-headed pragmatist in the blink of a finger-torch. She is expertly supported by Charlotte Dubery, Matthew Gurney, Michael Sharman and Ben Thompson as they kick, punch, roll and slither through a myriad of precise LED-framed sequences so the audience experiences a kind of a collective extreme migraine. It’s clever and witty and scary and discombobulating all at once: weak disposition? Don’t go there.
My one criticism is the use of Brechtian-style projected tag-lines that act as commentary/narrative. These, to me, were completely unnecessary and neither enhanced or progressed the script: these performers are so good that they have no need to rely on such a prosaic supplement to the action. If the thinking was Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt then there was definitely enough alienation happening to the audience AND to the characters for this to be satisfied.
This kind of show cannot be put together without expert technicians and for both Matthew Leventhall, Lighting Designer, and Chris Bartholomew Composer and Sound Designer, no praise is high enough. As well as his metal mash-ups Bartholomew also incorporated some Beethoven: “Ode To Joy”, the Europe Anthem, seemed highly appropriate (though accidental) on the day the draft EU negotiation was published (much thought-bending and mind-blanking going on there) whilst the excellent use of the 7th Symphony was either a deliberate or unintentional homage to “Zardoz”, the seminal Sci Fi movie that explores AI and thought transference.
Light, as an everyday story of mind-f*cked folk, is definitely a show that should be experienced (which is the operative word) – though if your idea of luminescence is gentle reflections in a lily pond this may not be the one for you.
Review by Peter Yates
Following a sold-out run at The Barbican in 2015, critically-acclaimed Light comes to Battersea Arts Centre for a limited two-week run.
A nightmarish tale of love, betrayal and technological power from the multi-award winning makers of Translunar Paradise & Ballad of the Burning Star.
Inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations and state surveillance, Theatre Ad Infinitum conjures an Orwellian future where a totalitarian regime monitors the thoughts of its citizens through implants. Charged with hunting down ‘terrorists’ who seek illegal disconnection, a young government agent encounters an enigmatic figure from his shadowy past.
Blending physical theatre, anime-style storytelling, intense darkness, torchlight and pulsating soundscapes, this wordless production draws audiences deep into its sci-fi realm.
Theatre Ad Infinitum
1st to 13th February 2016 7:30pm