The Royal Exchange Theatre, Tuesday 9th May, 2017.
Jimmy lives with his mother in Newport where he works in the town’s only drive-thru doughnut outlet. The highlight of his week takes place every Wednesday night when he rings a telephone sex line and has his weekly 9-minute-long chat with Kitty.
How My Light Is Spent was written by Alan Harris, who won a Judge’s award as part of the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for playwriting. First impressions of the performance are rather uninspiring: there is no set, props or even costumes; there are only two actors who seem to play a dozen roles each; and the accompanying lighting and sound effects are minimal in the extreme.
Despite the no-frills approach, How My Light Is Spent is a deeply engaging and refreshing production – a play that is depressing and uplifting at the same time, the theatrical equivalent of listening to The Smiths.
The plot jumps around from scene to scene, eventually forming a clearer story that touches upon some sad and serious issues: the sex industry and sexual exploitation; unemployment; lack of social mobility; loss of identity. Yet there is a warm comical blanket thrown over all of this, allowing both performers to amuse and entertain without being leaving a grim and depressing impression of doom and gloom.
This is a darkly comic tale of how loss of employment can lead a person to “disappear” – in Jimmy’s case he literally thinks his body parts are physically vanishing, one by one. It’s disturbing to watch, the audience is led to the uncomfortable realisation that this is a man undergoing a serious mental health breakdown, but the jovial and comical twists of the plot suggest that, at some point, this is a character who will get himself back on track and everything will be just fine.
How My Light Is Spent is a topical reminder for all of us that we are are probably a lot closer to poverty and isolation than we might like to think – in the end it is a refreshing and revitalising night of entertainment, and an excellent reminder that theatre can be very good without needing an expensive production budget.