Two climbers descend into a sinkhole somewhere in Northern Central America. It is a treacherous blackness without easy escape, yet Hana (Ellie Isherwood), a PhD student, and Ethan (Simon Lyshon), a sure-footed and experienced guide, seem confident and fearless. We, the audience, immersed in darkness, make the slow descent with them as they grip tight to their ropes. “Don’t look down,” Ethan shouts to Hana. The audience feels the tension. It is a 500-foot drop to the floor of the cave, and the only light to pierce the darkness is the light from Ethan and Hana’s head torch.
The Gap in the Light is billed as an investigation into our relationship with the things that scare us – and the storyline is reminiscent of ‘things that go bump in the night’, but its strength lies in its actors and their ability to engage the audience in their physical struggle as they inch their way through an alien darkness, crawl on their backs, and negotiate their bodies against the narrow and treacherous cavities of the sinkhole. It is truly an ingenious use of theatre space. And it is all believable that Hana would make this journey as an academic quest to support her PhD thesis. She is determined to uncover new knowledge of the ancient Mayan world and its inhabitants – perhaps a piece of pottery will provide clues. She tells Ethan that clay pots 9,000 years old can contain the remnants of diet, whether the Mayans preferred vegetables or fish. At first, we share her trust in Ethan and his ability to keep her safe. But neither she nor Ethan is prepared for the ill tidings that await them in this netherworld and the first half of The Gap in the Light is perfectly pitched to keep us wondering if they will ever make it out of the sinkhole.
The second half of the play plunges us back into the bright, colourful world of comfort furnishings from Habitat and Ikea. The audience can relax, we know where we are and Hana is with us in the front room of her cozy London flat. She’s escaped the sinkhole and has resumed married life with her thoughtful engineer husband, Daniel (Archie Backhouse). A beautiful rapport exists between the two, again a credit to the talents of the actors. Hana is pregnant and Daniel is about to engineer a high-powered project. Things should be perfect but there is a fear that stalks Hana, an unexplained fear – something happened in the sinkhole – only she can’t remember what it is.
The Gap in the Light is a uniue piece of physical theatre and storytelling with a flawless first act, one that plays on the fear of being at the mercy of forces beyond our control. It loses its way somewhat in the second act – maybe it’s the experience of being plunged from an immersive darkness into a repelling modern light. And what of Ethan? We’re never quite sure what’s happened to him or what it is that Hana cannot shake off. But it’s well worth a visit to the New Diorama Theatre to find out.
Review by Loretta Monaco
Darkness. Head torch flickers. She descends the rope. Inch by inch, practiced and efficient.
A sound. Stop. She’s suspended in black. What’s there? Head torch on full beam… Nothing. It’s in her head. Silent, she continues her descent.
The sound again. Closer. Head torch flickers off. She calls to her climbing partner. No answer. She hangs. Alone. Engulfed in the abyss.
Two climbers make a journey, deep into somewhere they don’t belong. What they encounter in the dark feels real. What they bring back with them, into the light, will change everything.
As we grapple with a changing world – divisive politics, unstoppable temperature rises, never-ending wars – Engineer Theatre Collective explore what it is to be truly afraid. Blending striking physical storytelling with visceral design, The Gap in the Light traces the nightmares that disturb the sleep of our modern world. How far do we have to fall, and who will catch us when the rope snaps?
George Evans – Co-Director
Jesse Fox – Co-Director
Sarah Beaton – Designer
Dominic Kennedy – Sound Designer
Oscar Wyatt – Lighting Designer
Zoe Hunter Gordon – Co-Writer
Eleanor Dear – Stage Manager
Emily Thommes – Producer
Beatrice Scirocchi – Co-Creator/Engineer
Josh Howell – Production Manager
Archie Backhouse – Daniel
Ellie Isherwood – Hana
Simon Lyshon – Ethan
New Diorama Theatre
Address: 15-16 Triton St, London NW1 3BF