Everything about Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Light is blunt in the extreme – intentionally so – and this starts with the story. Set somewhere towards the end of the century, this futuristic dystopia presents a world in which spying gadgets have been replaced with brain implants, used by the powers that be to read not just emails but every thought in the world, should they deem it necessary. Rebels hide in the ‘wasteland’, led by a woman who invented the implants in the first place (Deborah Pugh); her former husband (Matthew Gurney), eager to use the technology for control from the get-go has elevated himself to the position of ‘Dear Leader’. Their son (Michael Sharman) is an agent tracking down those seeking illegal removal of implants and thinks his mother is dead. Cue family drama, revelation of parenthood, and a whole lot of mind control that results in the son killing his mother while thinking he is killing his father, because that’s mind control for you.
Professing to be inspired by the Snowden revelations and invoking 1984 and Brave New World, while somehow still being far more reminiscent of Star Wars, this politically charged family drama takes place in complete darkness (kudos for working around health & safety), disrupted by hand-held lights performers manipulate to successfully create the past and the present in bars, offices, trains, the wasteland and people’s minds. The concept is perhaps not technologically flashy, but it’s technically complex, and in that regard Light is a successful, painstakingly precise choreography and somewhat of a risk – every misstep in the dark could bring the performance to a hault. But the success is purely formal: the metaphorical potential behind director George Mann’s concept exhausts itself in the (obvious and blunt) assertion that in a world so open even the minds are unlocked, there is nothing – no knowledge or freedom – only the black hole of controlled and imposed darkness.
The bluntness doesn’t stop there. Light is a piece of physical theatre – in this case the physicality is reduced to miming everything from having a drink, via sending thought messages to being drunk or excited or suspicious. The dialogue is presented in the form of surtitles and brings lines that could have easily been plucked out of pulp SF novels or indeed telenovelas; the entire piece is accompanied by a soundscape (Chris Bartholomew) that includes a digital enhancement of every movement anyone ever makes – be it zooming in on a thought, fighting or feeding a baby. Light makes a statement and then proceeds to underline it for over an hour – the dread and horror of a dystopian future is now so likely there’s no time for subtext, subtlety or even a second dimension.
The real problem however is not that this approach makes Light monotone, it’s that it makes it a dangerous statement on personal responsibility in the current surveillance-context. Winston Smith was a cog that rebelled, as is Edward Snowden. Here, all the power is in the hands of the outstanding, be they out-of-control despots, or their nemesis who lost the battle to control the technology. The plebs are just a tool (no pun intended), doubly manipulated and in the dark anyway. There’s no need to consider the phones bought, the information shared willingly if naively, the politicians voted in, then tolerated and exposed to zero repercussions: until the leader from the wilderness appears, maybe it’s best to resume that Candy Crush quest.