Black Light

Alvaro Menén Desleal
Casa Latin American Theatre Festival
St. Andrew's Church, Holborn
(2007)

Production photo

It is impossible to imagine a blacker comedy than this immensely popular El Salvadoran political parable that only 42 years after it was originally written finally receives its UK premiere.

The location could not be more appropriate, as Black Light forms part of the Casa Latin American Theatre Festival in the Crypt of St. Andrew's Church, Holborn, where it joins Sepia Dreams.

According to director Sarah Norman whose recent production of David Mamet's Duck Variations was such a success at the King's Head, less than a decade ago this dungeon-like space was still fulfilling the funereal role that it had since the fourteenth century.

Now, it is occupied by two dead co-protagonists, a revolutionary idealist called Goter and a thief named Moter. They have been executed together in the name of liberty by an unnamed regime that is far from liberal.

For an hour, their literally disembodied heads, cleverly stacked on bloodied steps by designer Sean Turner, talk away. This may sound like Beckett in one of his more surreal moods and, at times, might be.

Rob Whitcomb plays the lighter-hearted Goter, a man who can see the funny side of his predicament, while Gwilym Lloyd is scared of the death that he already suffers, although as an unprincipled criminal, he at least accepts that it is a fitting punishment for the life that he has enjoyed.

For the best part of an hour, the two swap witticisms and allusions to the totalitarian state that has left them divided with the remainder of their bodies visible but out of reach. They also do their metaphysical best to establish whether they are alive, dead or in limbo.

Just when the audience begins to relax, an additional element is introduced by a brief visit from a third man, sympathetically played by Mark Duncan. He has been blinded, Gloucester-style and ensures that the surreal horror of this country does not dissipate beneath the light-heartedness of the two dead heads.

This may not sound like the stuff of high comedy but thanks to two top-notch performances under the expert eye of a young director to watch, Black Light is great if rather gory fun, with dark political undertones.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher