Edinburgh Fringe 2014
"Multi award-winning Ad Infinitum (Ballad of the Burning Star, Translunar Paradise, Odyssey) presents a dystopian future inspired by Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations where implants connect brains to cyberspace and governments secretly infiltrate citizens’ minds. Intense darkness, torchlight, graphic novel/anime inspired visuals, physical storytelling, and a stunning soundscape fuse to tell a story of love, betrayal, and technological power. "
Light is a very filmic production, and intentionally so. We are offered the dystopian futures of 1984, of The Matrix, of Equilibrium. The default during this hour long show is darkness and L.E.D light is used throughout, a puppetry of light, that shows us thought in flight, power relationships, pain, and even hope. The simplicity of red and green creates the good-evil construct that becomes the battle of good and evil at the heart of this creation. Green is the return to freedom,to individuality,to release. Red is the means of control, of thought delivery and extraction.
But light is not the heart of this production’s design, it is an exciting, often spectacular tool for it. Movement lies at the core, and the Lecoq-immersed performers bring it to dramatic life in ways I have never seen before on the stage. I’ve seen in other reviews a criticism of the narrative not being clear enough. Grasping most of that narrative depends on reading subtitles projected onto a screen above the stage at the back. These present us with dialogue and give us back story to this nonspoken performance. Being able to see them is key to understanding the story, and some have complained they were hard to read (If that is the case, this needs addressing). This is a visual tale that unfolds, facts emerge, the world before us is revealed through word, sound and action.
We glean much from these visuals and the sound effects. I’m not sure how many of the audience are aware that the soundscape (apart from the movie back-drop music) is produced live from the back of the theatre by creator George Mann himself who had the dream a decade ago of a totalitarian future that ultimately inspired Light. Mann and the cast on stage are almost excrutiatingly pitch perfect in their physical timing and the weaving together of sound and visuals is often breathtaking.
It’s a spectacle indeed, but it is also necessary for this techno-world to be authentically realised in front of us. Certainly from the near back (and my eyesight certainly isn’t perfect) I followed the story with ease. But that did require me to be totally present as an audience member, to lean froward and reach into the darkness. The storyline’s elements converge over the hour, the puzzle pieces coming together and you’ll only “get it” if you actively follow it. Though this has film-like qualities, you won’t understand it unless you meet it with your full attention for a piece of theatre, an attention that is often deliberately bombarded with sound, light and movement. Without doubt, there is scope for the company to refine the story further,clarify it and to make it more accessible. Yet that may take it too far into a "sit back and passively enjoy the film" space, diminishing it as theatre.
Light explores a hyperconnected world. The storyline has been played out in different ways in film and novels before. What is new here is the exploration of privacy and also the way that texting and micromessaging may be prefiguring in our time now what Mark Slouka called The Hive Mind in his book, "The Assault on Reality". The play also offers confirmation of an idea posited in Sherry Turkle’s bestselling book, “Alone, Together”, namely that, even as we surrender to increasing connectedness, we experience more isolation from each other at an essential level of our humanity; our uniqeueness, our spark, or “mojo”. That surrender also opens up opportunities, not for a benevolently connected community, but for brutal totalitarian control. Mann’s world is indeed a dark place, a place of pain where “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear”. Yet who is only light? We all have darkness within us. We all have something to fear and to hide. In this story, a pitch blackness looms up and out from its edges, like a nightmare, offering warnings to the seemingly innocuous ubertransparency and connectedness that social media increasingly demands of us in the present day. A tale set in the future that offers us ideas and warnings for our contemporary state. That has always been one of the missions of science fiction.
As theatre, Light is not without it flaws. It is occasionally a bit too derivative, sometimes a bit too polarising. Some of the movement is lost in the sound and light maelstrom. There’s scope to further refine and improve accessibility of the narrative.
Yet this is a production that is so spectacular, a production that has uniquely merged physical movement with puppetry of light, film-theatre with soundscape, and has not stopped at spectacle but offered a story for our times, wisely drawing upon science fiction to question where we are all heading as a species. Does connection set us free or devour that very freedom?
The cast of five create a frightening believable world. The precision in the choreography and use of LED lights is outstanding. Lightening fast switches between scenes and set pieces are also outstanding for their tightness and impact. All mirror the repetitive, short-sharp nature of a binary realm implanted into, and dominating human biology. Theatre Ad Infinitum have achieved this through making inventive use of light, choreographing this with a powerful soundtrack, live soundscape, and their signature physical theatre style. Amongst the noise, we still have tenderness, moments of romance and the gentle love of a mother for her child. We have violence and conflict, realised through gesture, use of space, and set piece stage fighting.
In the unique combination of this physicality with the achievement of having created astonishing visual effects that would happily grace a CGI film, yet are produced entirely by the physical movement and voice skills of human beings, Light is an (and I almost never use this word in a review) amazing technical and artistic achievement. Light has remade theatre for the 21st Century.