The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 29th October, 2019
Please stay in touch with me
In this contactless society
Anywhere that you may be
The northern star leads back to me
Christine has met her end. She saw it all play out and has the precise details of how it happened: it was a Monday, in February, 2017, it was twelve minutes to five in the afternoon.
She astutely observes: “when someone dies they move from the present to the past; they go from being in the 1st person to being in the 3rd person.” In Christine’s case she can re-live, so to speak, the exact moment and circumstances of her death.
Christine is the ghost-like figure who commands the opening scenes of Light Falls – Simon Stephens’ sixth outing as writer for the main stage at the Royal Exchange. The apparition that is Christine is not in any way frightening or upsetting. Instead she does what most mothers might do and begins very pragmatically fussing and fretting about how her family will cope.
The full two-hour-long performance of Light Falls is a mosaic-like patchwork of scenes that jump from one family member to another. What emerges are disparate fragments of a story which, initially, are quite tricky to piece together – it took a good half hour to set the scene and make sense of Christine’s post-mortem deliberations over her children and her husband.
But once up and running something new emerged – an intriguing and uneasy tension. Small clues were dotted around the various scenes; each character has flaws, weaknesses and secrets. There’s a strong sense throughout that something really bad is about to happen and that elongated application of high-tension suspense seems to be where this performance most pleasingly succeeds.
Light Falls is a nice enough performance and the manner in which the story is told is novel and intriguing. Delivery-wise it seems to be slightly lacking in theatricality – the dominant mood is constant and prolonged: actors entering into pensive dialogues with little or no physical movement; very sparse musical accompaniment; relatively static lighting. None of it is bad, but when put together it all seems to feel a little thin on the ground.
But despite this Light Falls still presents itself as an intriguing little exploration of what might happen when the end eventually comes. The show deals with incredibly serious and moving themes yet also delivers plenty of genuinely funny moments that pleasingly cut through the gloomy darkness of grief. The closing scene is wonderful and fittingly provides a cathartic resolution to Christine’s story – maybe sometimes the fear of grief is more overwhelming than the grief itself.
Photography: Manuel Harlan
|Visual pleasure||The Royal Exchange’s famous circular module was closed off on one side to instead create a horseshoe-shaped staging arrangement. A giant set of steps made up the rear of the stage, though in the context of the show it’s not immediately clear what that was adding as the third dimension wasn’t really used, most of the action took place on the main floor area anyway.||2|
|Auditory pleasure||Contains an original composition by Jarvis Cocker but it was incredibly lightly used, in fact the whole show felt very short on musical input. What was presented was perfectly good but in auditory terms most of the show is spoken word.||1|
|Architecture & Theme||Felt rather confusing to start with as scenes changed so quickly and new characters came and went without developing. Once enough character definition became embedded it transformed into a much more enjoyable experience – something closer to a conventional plot emerged, even though the entire show is delivered as constantly changing micro scenes.||3|
|Artistic delivery||Acting performances were excellent with strong delivery and more and more being revealed about every individual character as the show went on. Rather disappointingly a large number of the scenes seemed to be rigidly static – tense dialogues with virtually no physical movement: two people stood motionless talking to each other; two people sat on a step motionless, talking to each other; etc.||4|
|Overall impact||A reasonably good show to experience but not particularly excelling in any one aspect. May potentially be much more appealing to those with fresher and more potent experiences of the bereavement / grief themes covered.||3|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|