Recently, prompted by Forest Fringe’s Theatre World Cup on Twitter, I’ve been thinking about how much different ways of seeing a show can come from whether people do or don’t like certain defined devices: whether they see a particular trope as a hackneyed cliché, a timeless coup de theatre, or something so commonplace that it is barely noticeable.
So to display my biases I going into this show, here’s how I feel about the tropes used in In The Light Everything is Brighter, pretty much regardless of how they were used in the performance.
Things I like: live bands onstage; party hats; mess, furniture on wheel; performers as stage hands; real props failing to interact with mimed set (i.e. a cereal box falling to the floor after being placed on imaginary shelves); anything that in any way resembles a music video; people completing boring tasks in silence from start to finish while nothing else is happening.
Things I don’t like: black-outs between scenes; monsters representing characters’ interior struggles; writhing around on the floor; arguments between characters where they don’t listen to each other; long periods of naturalistic dialogue.
So, with the confessions out of the way, the play…
Bristol collective Wilderbeast’s debut show In The Light Everything is Brighter is about Elliot, a character who is described in one song as –
You need a new job,
You live with your parents,
You’re turning into a knob.”
We see around a week in the life of Elliot (Oscar Adams) after his best friend moves away. Conversations with his parents and colleagues are interwoven with songs sung to him by a mysterious crooner, accompanied by a four-piece onstage band, and with terrifying visions of a mysterious monster.
After a slightly rocky start, the show has some moments that are truly gorgeous, smart and brave. The moment for me where it clicked into ‘wow this is cool’ mode was the incredible time and space given to two characters eating their sandwiches – there was no rush, there was no silliness, just a moment of time completely committed to an action (though it did make me a little sad later in the play when some bowls of cereal were left half-eaten).
But the surrounding dialogue (and I don’t JUST think this is my personal taste talking) offered some of the weakest parts of the play; some scenes felt too long, with a little too much exposition, and not quite enough fluidity. Still, that’s not to say there weren’t moments of almost revelatory accuracy, like the moments of strained conversation with family members which slide from gripes about mugs in bedrooms to discussions about job listings online, where everyone is really trying their hardest. Moments which this 22-year-old writer who needs a new job and lives with her parents felt could have been copied down verbatim from a hundred different homes.
It was the moments that ramped up the absurdity that really worked best. The music throughout (directed by Nell O’Hara and Dominic Beddard Coll) was sublime and the moments in which the crooner (Thomas Davies) entered to cruelly serenade Elliot always felt intriguing. Dream sequences are difficult things to pull off but this one was possibly the most effective moment in the play, bringing back elements of strangeness that had been seeded in without overdoing anything.
It was perhaps the fact that all the other non-naturalistic elements worked so well that I was surprised that I wasn’t won over by the monster. Whereas the other elements of dream and fantasy seemed well-woven into the show, the monster itself often felt oddly placed and unneeded. It was only in its final appearance that it gelled with the other dream-like aspects of the play, creating quite a touching ending.
Wilderbeast is a company with really exciting ideas, and enough weirdness to start turning into something unique. If they lean into that absurdity, they could create something truly special.
In The Light Everything Is Brighter was at 1532 Performing Arts Centre, Bristol, until July 21st. For more details, click here.