Director Amelia Sears examines the human cost of global events in Michael McLean’s play Years of Sunlight, exploring themes of class, identitity, addiction, judgement and home.
Years of Sunlight, at its heart, is a play about the friendship between two characters, Emlyn and Paul. It traverses a period of 30 years in order to explore the delicate and seemingly unimportant moments in their lives that turn out to alter who they become and the lives they lead.
By dissecting this friendship and the characters that surround it, the play expands into themes that are complex and challenging to negotiate. It opens up questions of class, and identity, addiction and judgement, family and home.
And because it is set in Skelmersdale, a Liverpool overspill estate that was masterminded and built in the 60s as an attempt to create a social utopia, it interrogates the relationship Britain has had with social housing and care over an extended period of time. In many ways the optimism and hope that went into creating Skelmersdale is mirrored in the optimism and hope that we see in Paul and Emlyn at their youngest (age 10). The promise of youth and the promise of a new town are intertwined so that the demise of the town is mirrored in the journey of Emlyn, a character who becomes an addict at the time that Skelmersdale was swamped with narcotics. The fulfilment of Paul’s potential (he would argue) is based on his escape to somewhere else, Dublin. And yet, it is not so simple, because their childhoods are markedly different, their experience of family opposite, and subsequently other people’s opinions of them. In many ways the play examines the simple question of nature vs nurture, but in such a poetic, moving and intriguing way that you’d be forgiven for not noticing.
When Paul returns to ‘Skem’ after years away, his disdain for his childhood home and it’s people is palpable, his opinion of his childhood friend Emlyn has become conservative and measured. His mother’s opinion of Emlyn, a man she cared for in the sickness of his addiction remains impassioned and empathetic. Their two viewpoints run almost directly in parallel with the political Right and the Left in government. In a post-Brexit Britain, that conflict of opinion feels unremittingly poignant as we all try to find new ways to discuss and move forward with two such opposing viewpoints.
Years of Sunlight isn’t an in-yer-face political polemic. It doesn’t reference directly any of the major political events that this country went through between 1980 and 2010. But as you journey backwards in time through the minutiae of these four people’s lives, you can’t help but sense the influence of the wider political context of each time in the background.
As people across the world seem nostalgic for a past that may or may not have ever existed, Years of Sunlight offers a small snapshot into the human cost of global change in one tiny corner of our little island.
Image: Alex Harvey-Brown