Few theatre companies have as diverse an oeuvre as Theatre Ad Infinitum. Their shows have included a tender love story performed with mask and mime and a drag cabaret musical about Israel, Now there’s Light, a piece of physical theatre that is genuinely not quite like anything I’ve ever seen before. That’s not an overstatement: although Light‘s themes are familiar, in terms of execution it’s hard to think of anything with which it compares.
The company’s stylistic diversity may have something to do with it having two artistic directors, George Mann and Nir Paldi, who take it in turns to lead on shows. Light marks the turn of Mann, who was initially inspired by the Edward Snowden revelations around internet surveillance. Though the show doesn’t engage with Snowden directly, it considers what this sort of attitude to the concept of privacy (and to the trend of using ‘but it stops TERRORISTS’ to justify any infringement of human rights) might eventually result in.
The show is staged in complete and utter darkness. It’s the kind of profound darkness you rarely get in a theatre because of fire escape signs and health and safety and so on, but somehow they’ve swung it and what they do with it is just unbelievably inventive. Using nothing more than lighting and mime to create a dystopian world, watching Light is an exhilarating but oppressive experience, trapping you in a dark future in every sense of the word (sorry). This surveillance-filled, boiler-suited vision of reality, in which shadowy government organisations can literally enter their citizens’ minds, feels a bit familiar – like somebody’s re-read 1984 and then had a good look at technological advances over the last, say, ten years, and merged the two together accordingly. Indeed, this would be a decent, solid enough piece of science fiction were it not for the visually stunning staging – which elevates Light to another level.
Watching this show has more in common, at times, with watching a noirish film or reading a graphic novel than it does with watching a piece of theatre. Though the cynic in me wonders if being a spectacle is enough to make a show a theatrical success, at the end of the day, it’s very hard to care when you’re watching it, because it’s such a spectacle. No words are spoken out loud, instead writer-director Mann creates a disturbing live soundscape alongside the performances, and the show as a whole is just such a feat you can’t help but be swept along by it.
The confident physicality of the performers is a genuine marvel and they’re so slick, so successful in evoking this world with just their bodies that Mann must have drilled them with manic determination. If not in every sense a success, Light is still hugely enjoyable and feels like the kind of interesting, experimental work the Fringe exists to facilitate. For that reason alone, it has to be seen.