Reviews Published 1 August 2019

Review: There is a Light That Never Goes Out at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Francesca Peschier has a conversation over voice notes with one of her very patient friends about technology, form, and what a very clever play about the Luddite rebellion can teach us about breaking the frame.

Francesca Peschier

Nisa Cole and Katie West in Kandinsky’s ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Photo: Manuel Harlan

From the Train

‘It’s definitely going to have a reference to Amazon warehouses in it. Or drones.’

‘Frank, it’s a play about the Luddite rebellion in 1812 based on certifiable, historical documentation. It’s not fucking Black Mirror with weavers.’

‘I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing – I think it’s going to be a great show. I’m just saying that if someone at some point in this play doesn’t do a mime about how everyone has lost the ability to empathise because PHONES I will buy you a pint. Technology is great, I love my smartphone – I am honestly not sure how humanity survived before Google maps’

‘We went to the moon without Google maps’

‘….’

‘Ok two things; firstly, I think you are fundamentally and wilfully misunderstanding what a Luddite is in this context. Secondly; you are forgetting this play is made by the Kandinsky crew – the marvellous Mooney and Yeatman. They made Gideon Mantell and his fossils theatrical AND funny in Dinomania. There is a Light that Never Goes Out is going to be far cleverer than all these obvious things you’re being snarky about.

‘Ouch.’

‘I’m right and you know it.’

The cast of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’.Designers: Naomi Kuyck-Cohen and Joshua Gadsby. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Please take your seats

‘Sooo… the design is beautiful as you would expect seeing as its Kuyck-Cohen and Gadsby. There’s this sort of trapezium-shaped catwalk, and it’s all glossy and red like blood or boiled sweets. It’s so exposed but finished – it’s like a slash across the stage. BUT…

‘?’

‘Microphones. Lots of them. And wires.’

‘Do…you think they’re going to sing?’

‘The title is a Smith’s song … but no, I think its gonna be a case of hating on the techno rather than gig theatre tonight.’

David Crellin, Reuben Johnson and Katie West in ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Interval

‘So, do I owe you a pint?’

‘No.’

‘You mean to say at no point at all did anyone do some physical theatre where they became a big machine? Or unplugged something is a dramatic way?’

‘I mean…well, yes that did happen. But it was really good. They used the mics in ways I didn’t expect. They wielded the stands like weapons, used them to pick up on the noises of farm animals that weren’t there. There was a purpose to every action, a clear trimming of the edges, shaping, dramaturgy to every movement as well as spoken moment. The machine they created, it spelled out the monotony of the factory floor and the scrabbling of the poor woman stuck underneath the belly of the beast clearing the threads away.’

‘Is there any story though? Or is it one of those verbatim ones where everyone stands up at points and reads out random lists of dates?’

‘No, there’s a clear narrative – and not one that’s cobbled. It’s maybe chopped too neatly into snapshots, but I think that’s forgivable based on how well the rest is tailored.’

‘Are you ready to give up your laptop and spin your own wool?’

‘Ha. No, but I am thinking about what I would smash first.

‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Train Home

‘Hey – U still up?

…..

‘Cos you see the thing is they didn’t smash up machines because they hated progress, they smashed them up because speed was being placed above lives. It was the start of a disposable age, throw away products, made cheaply – and far worse throw away people. The actors took turns as the embodiment of Ludd – this imagined leader of it all. Kinda part the scary dude from Jeepers Creepers, part Idris Elba in Dark Tower – you really got the idea of how the rebels mythologised him. How he became the spirit of the Luddites, more of a framework for how to act, what to break, for a revolution rather than a figurehead/’

‘/Frank, it’s late and I’m watching the final on catch-up. I didn’t invest this much time in Ovie to be interrupted by you extolling on 19th century Lancashire resistance’

‘But I think this story and how well it is told is somehow related to how Mooney and Yeatman created it. That this is a devised process – and one done over only eight weeks! EIGHT WEEKS! My old flatmate made sourdough bread that took longer than that. It means no time for waste, ultimate efficiency BUT that is found through centring people. Both the people making the work in the room and the people that is about. It’s breaking the frame of making theatre, and that’s a direct link to the Luddites breaking the frame knitting machines.’

‘They just have the same word in them. Let me judge Caroline Flack’s fashion in peace.’

‘No – stay with me on this one. Obviously, the weavers were angry about the loss of livelihood, resulting poverty and the horrible, dangerous conditions – those literal satanic mills – but also about the poor quality of the product. The craft was gone, the care. That’s not progress – it’s just profit. Sometimes progress can be … can be about fewer things. Scaling down focus onto what’s actually important. 99% of the time, it really doesn’t matter if you get your package tomorrow – we need to see that there is an invisible human and environmental cost to our convenience.’

‘… I’ll let you off the pint if you save the rest of this for the morning’

‘You can read my review!’

‘Why don’t you just do something like transcribe these voice notes to show how the clever it was that how Mooney and Yeatman make all these connections and found the humanity in this historical drama without any of the obvious theatre metaphors that you were expecting? I mean – don’t do that, it’ll be proper wanky. But you know, something like that’.

There is a Light That Never Goes Out is on at Royal Exchange Manchester until 10th August 2019. More info and tickets here

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Francesca Peschier

Dr Francesca Peschier is a dramaturg, lecturer, writer and ex-designer based in the New Works department at the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. When not writing about or watching theatre she concerns herself with back-combing her hair to Dolly Parton heights and trying to create passable aerial hoop routines to goth rock classics.

Review: There is a Light That Never Goes Out at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester Show Info


Written by Created by James Yeatman and Lauren Mooney

Cast includes Amelda Brown, Nisa Cole, David Crellin, Reuben Johnson, Daniel Millar and Katie West

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