For a group of people so obsessed with the world of pretend, theatregoers and critics seem strangely attracted to the word ‘honesty’ (and its permutations). Calling a piece ‘an honest portrayal’ is usually a positive thing; it means something like, ‘this art of illusion had a hint of authenticity, this world of fiction touched upon some non-fictional thing in the real world’.
There are two ways ‘honesty’ is usually used. First, to suggest that the art in question is successful in reflecting the life from which it stemmed. Dialogue, details, structure, they all smack of the real world. Often times associated with realism or plays based on real events, it speaks to the veracity of the fantasy; this could be real. It’s a good quality mirror.
The second ‘honesty’ is associated with the attitude manifested by the work. Even while the mirror may be warped, something about the piece feels authentic. It speaks a truth. The best kind of honesty is when the distortion of the mirror is precisely what makes the piece resonate, when the world of illusion is consciously exercised to illustrate a truth which lies outside a realm graspable by realism.
Mark Lockyer’s Living With the Lights On is honest even if it isn’t portrayed honestly. Before the show he greets the audience, often individually, while tea and biscuits are offered at the entrance. His prologue to the piece is an explanation for the humble set and the unchanging lights: this is going to be a story about his life, and he is just going to tell it.
But Lockyer’s life is the life of an actor, and quickly his simple story becomes punctuated by larger-than-life characters with accentuated and absurd physicality. His tale reaches Faustian status as he is visited by the devil, and the bare stage, the stable lights, suddenly become incongruent. Frenetic and camp, Lockyer unravels his tale with a darkening and combustible energy that feels as if it might cause an explosion if only someone lit a match. He’s so close to spiralling out of control, much like the younger version of himself who steals from his friends and is ruthless to those who love him. It’s a dangerous performance, one which is gripping, but is also grasping for survival, for air, for some way to accurately reflect a version of itself.
So, yes, it’s honest. And it’s dark. But it’s also theatrical. The very real stage and the very real story are met with exaggeration, with hyperbole, with a world unlike our own. Lockyer stands on the stage and literally shows us his demons. Sometimes our world is warped, and it takes the machinations of the devil, a portrait of Beelzebub himself, to express our own contortions and to fully take witness in our image.
Living With the Lights On is on tour in Autumn 2017, including a run at Glasgow Citizen’s Theatre, 20-21st Oct. Book tickets here.