While “the surveillance state” seems like a loosy goosy premise to organize a play around, I’m pleased to say that Theatre Ad Infititum’s Light takes the core nightmare of the society we live in – one where we expect our communication with others to be private and yet now know that most of our communication is routinely monitored by this and other governments. It clear to see what a government on a mission can do to destroy a person’s life – I mean, there are people in Guantanamo to this day who have had no charges brought against them – and the distance between our current situation and a living dystopia is probably little more than the flick of a switch away.
The style of Light is very much like a silent movie (say by Guy Maddin) – all dialogue is broadcast in text above the stage, and the movement is highly stylized to increase the emotional effect of the action. Scenes are “set” with circles of light that might only have a hand or a face in them – so our gaze is guided from moment to moment onto very specific things. The performers often hold the lights and move them around to achieve this effect, and also seem to “throw” LEDs (in red and green) that are meant to show people “sharing” their thoughts with each other (although it could just as easily be people sending text messages and getting them on their phones). The nightmare at the core of this is that now our “receiving devices” are internal instead of external (phones), and these implanted devices are required by and monitored by the state. The plot is a bit about a rebel group trying to free people from the tyranny of surveillance but also about how this surveillance state came to be.
As a theatrical experience, I found the intense sensory assault (there is quite a bit of noise and we’re also occasionally blinded, then reverted to near full darkness) engaging: I liked having my focus so strongly guided. I’m also a science fiction fan, and I found the Matrix-like elements of the plot very enjoyable – in fact, the way this play rode the edge of reality made it feel much more plausible than a story about us being used as batteries. Finally, at 70 minutes, it was pretty damned snappy, with just about 5 minutes of tightening needed. And, boy, my 12 quid ticket could not be beat. In short: it’s excellent, so do try to go, if for no other reason than to see one of the best and most original lighting designs to ever grace the London stage.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, February 1st, 2016. It continues through February 13th.)