Years of Sunlight
Seared Productions, Theatre 503
There is something terribly flawed about those post-war attempts to build new towns to accommodate those living in city slums. You rarely hear them spoken of with much affection.
Michael McLean’s play Years of Sunlight gives us an account of how four characters respond to one such town over twenty-seven years. They live in Skelmersdale which has some of the most deprived district wards in the country and in places an unemployment rate twice the national average.
It begins in 2009 with Paul (Mark Rice-Oxley) aged thirty-seven standing outside the burnt remains of his former home where his childhood friend Emlyn was burnt to death. He and his mother Hazel (Miranda Foster) who he hadn’t had contact with for over eleven years recall the last occasions they saw him alive.
The play then tracks back through some of the events in their life. There is the pleasure of two eleven-year-olds on a holiday in Rhyl where Emlyn (Bryan Dick) describes to Hazel how a mysterious girl much older than themselves approached him and Paul on the promenade offering them a short drink of cherry wine before running off.
Both Paul and Emlyn are cramped by their life. It leads years later to Paul leaving for well paid work elsewhere, bitter with his former world.
Emlyn’s discontent finds expression in a sharp witty manner, truancy from school, a drift into drug abuse and for a fleeting period art work that is mounted as a local exhibition. Unfortunately very few people come to see it.
Hazel, a single mother, had already emigrated from Ireland and had learned to make the best of her limited circumstances, caring for Paul and his friend Emlyn.
Her friend Bob (John Biggins) takes a more bigoted approach, talking about the place being "Rivers of Blood with Scousers" and dismissively referring to Emlyn who is in care as a "Barnardo boy". When the eleven-year-old Emlyn responds with gentle wit, Bob hits him in the face.
This is a bleak, moving story with believable characters performed by a fine cast. Bryan Dick is particularly effective shifting between a warm, perceptive cheekiness with its undertones of rage to a risky fatalism.
There are too many towns like Skelmersdale where people live difficult, cramped lives. Some leave. Others settle for its limits. But the choices can be few. Michael McLean’s play reminds us of the cost of letting things remain as they are.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna