How My Light Is Spent
Royal Exchange Theatre, Sherman Theatre, Theatre by the Lake
Royal Exchange Theatre
Back in November 2015 when the finalists of the Bruntwood Prize presented excerpts from their work before the overall winner was announced, I remember that Alan Harris's South Wales-based play appeared to be particularly quirky, funny and charming—and so it proves in this superbly performed full production in the Studio.
Written as a sequence of unallocated lines combining narration with dialogue for any number of performers, director Liz Stevenson uses just two actors, Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley, who tell their story as main characters Jimmy and Kitty, but become other characters in their tale as they arise.
However this isn't a showy piece of character acting; it is presented simply as two people telling a story and mimicking those involved, just as most of us do when relating an anecdote, but doing it very well. Our storytellers also occasionally disagree on how to tell the story and on which details to reveal.
So what is the story? Well, Jimmy is 34, separated with a teenage daughter he never sees and lives with his mum, Rita, in Newport, South Wales while working at Newport Nuts, a drive-through doughnut shop. He rings Kitty once a week on a premium 'phone sex line, but their relationship later develops into meeting in person.
However as things start to go wrong in Jimmy's life, he starts to physically disappear, starting with his hands and gradually spreading through his body.
The dialogue bounces along wonderfully with a constant flow of witty dialogue and asides. However some elements, from the lack of character assignments in the script to the Kafkaesque transformation of the main character, look like self-conscious attempts to be different and modern without really resonating as deeply as they could through the themes of the play.
The ending is a descriptively visual, expressionistic fantasy that ends on a note of idealistic hope, but it is also a bit of a cop-out as it avoids any real-world engagement with the very real problems in the characters' lives.
Having said that, it's very entertaining for the full hour and a bit running time with two wonderfully detailed and expressive performances from storytellers you can't help but warm to from the moment they stand between us on the traverse stage. Subtle little 'phone sounds and manipulation of the actors' voices by sound designer Giles Thomas add to the overall effect.
This is an enjoyable short play from a writer who may still be experimenting with style but is certainly one to watch.
Reviewer: David Chadderton