Light – Battersea Arts Centre – 04/02/16

Light at Battersea Arts Centre 2016

Theatre is unique in its ability to take you to places you have never been before but ‘Light’, by Theatre Infinitum, takes this to extremes, conjuring times, places and scenarios beyond imagining with nothing but a blacked out set, 5 actors, and their unique exploitation of nature’s most essential element, light.

George Mann’s production conjures up a distant, dystopian future with one crucial difference; those in power can read and control our thoughts. Through the tale of a young government agent, torn between duty and his secret growing desire for freedom, we learn how this violent and unsettling Orwellian-esque world came to be – and the only way to end it.

Having premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2014, Light is making its return to the London International Mime Festival for a limited run at the BAC, where it had a sold-out run at The Pit, Barbican, in January 2015.

The story is played out on digital surtitles whilst the action (mimed), is only made visible by a combination of strip lights, searchlights and torches. This makes for a show where the physical performances are the driving force, and the imagination is left to fill in the blanks of the parred back black set. Each member of the cast was utterly compelling in their character role, but the skill with which they executed the technical demands of the lighting is where each performer’s capabilities really came to light. To create and maintain the illusion of this shadowy world, flickering bars and tubes of light became security access doors, futuristic touch screen computer panels, a bed; created a science lab, a nightclub, a bedroom, a torture chamber… Each individual ‘thought’ of each character was picked out by a single coloured light in a memorising, mind-boggling display. It is in these technical aspects, the originality of this production really shines through. Through the quickest of changes, between which the audience are plunged into complete darkness, the pace never drops.

Holding this visual marvel together is a sometimes punchy but consistently ominous, industrial-inspired, soundtrack which flows in a strange and discordant harmony with the performers. The overall effect is of a beautiful and yet terrifying, dream-like dance. The performance has been specifically designed to be deaf and hard of hearing accessible, so that with the aid of the surtitles, the telling of the story does not rely on audible cues. One of the principal actors is himself deaf, a leading example for inclusivity in the arts.

From the plot and overall styling, it is possible to pick out a whole host of influences from the science fiction world, which will satisfy fans of the genre without isolating those unfamiliar with its tropes. There are some truly heart-pounding dream sequences that plunge you straight into the phantasmal worlds of The Matrix/ Neuromancer, whilst the dark, tense and smoky atmosphere has the quality of film-noir styled Blade Runner. Thematically, with its exploration of the parameters of mind control, it’s clear messages on the corruptibility of humanity in the face of power and it’s overarching commentary on the terrible things science & technology enables said corruptible, power-hungry humans to do to one another, the overwhelming sense is undoubtedly, 1984.

“You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” – a phrase we have heard echoing down the chain of history in many different guises, forms the spine of the Orwellian influence in this piece.

The only limitations of the production were beyond the stage, where I feel opportunities were missed in the company’s use of the space and their relation to the audience within it. Although there is no physical barrier in place in the BAC’s Council Chamber studio space, an illusionary divide between the stage and the audience was created by never shining a light beyond the first row, leaving the audience in complete darkness. Whilst it felt uncomfortable and even frightening in places to be left in the dark, the performance might have benefited from some more interactive touches of light.

By remaining onlookers in the dark, the audience were also never called upon to have a role or to consider their place within the performance, it could therefore be easy to get swept up in the captivating physical theatre spectacle and to pass over the deeper political meaning. Opportunities for participation in politically charged pieces ought not to be passed up.

Theatre Infinitum are rightfully gaining a reputation, and awards, for brining mime back to the World theatre scene in new and innovative ways. Contrast Light with their 2011 production, Translunar Paradise and their deft handling of the art of mime through different times, places and contexts is clear to see. The only question remains, what (and where) to next?

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