Light Waves, Dark Skies

Matt Ball, Catherine Dyson (and The Company)

We Made This / Pontardarwe Arts Centre

Chapter, Cardiff

From 30 November 2016 to 03 December 2016

Review by Othniel Smith

In the publicity materials for Light Waves, Dark Skies, director Matt Ball cites a haunting Gabriel Garcia Marquez story as his initial inspiration for a piece which has been in active, collaborative development for around two years; his (happy) experience of parenthood is a more immediate spur. The audience knows going in that the production takes as its subject the loss of a child—we are thus primed for an emotional time.

What we are confronted with is Paul Burgess’s sparsely decorated set. There is the broken hull of a small sailing-boat, a two-person tent, a table with chairs and a large video screen at the back of the stage.

Random events seem to occur. A woman plays through audio recordings from media reports telling the story of a boy who has disappeared at sea. A man tells stories to his child, complete with cleverly re-created shadow-play. Another woman appears to commit an act of vandalism with a hammer.

It transpires that the second woman is Ruth, played by Catherine Dyson, who begins to deliver a lecture on light pollution—she has recently returned to work, following her tragic loss.

Meanwhile, her partner, Gareth, played by Morgan Thomas, is unable or unwilling to leave the house and is either recalling tender moments with his child or making believe he is still there. An experienced boat-man, he now chooses to remain inland.

The two of them come together at the end of the day, but have trouble communicating over the dinner-table—the cutlery scraping annoyingly loudly on their plates points up the uneasy silences.

The third character is Gwawr Loader’s Julia, a family friend who has been a student of Ruth’s, a baby-sitter for the couple, an informal Welsh-language tutor, and an environmental activist. Crucially, in terms of the fractured, time-shifting narrative, she is now a journalist, who got her big break by (arguably) exploiting her connection with the family.

There is a fourth character: the Boy, whose voice (that of Rhys George McNabb) is ever-present, woven through Sam Jones’s sound design. He also appears, as an impressively rendered animation´╗┐, on the large video screen.

Connor Lovejoy’s evocative lighting design is crucial, since light is a recurring motif, as the characters seek to emerge from darkness and reflect on the vastness of the cosmos in a vain attempt to put their problems into perspective.

The brittleness between Gareth and Ruth is palpable; but inevitably it is Loader who gets to play the widest ranges of moods, bringing relatively light relief.

The script is intelligent and poetic, the authors resisting the temptation to wallow in melodrama or misery. The characters all go on journeys, both physical and spiritual, and the piece ends on a note of reconciliation, rather than simplistic closure.

The time-scale of the narrative is somewhat unclear; and, obviously, the subject-matter will be too close to home for some. Nevertheless, Light Waves, Dark Skies is a sensitive and beautifully innovative treatment of a familiar theme.´╗┐