[author-post-rating] (2/5 Stars)
Andrew Sheridan burst onto the stage with his phenomenal debut play Winterlong in 2011, winning the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. The play went on to be performed at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, at Soho Theatre in London and then in a number of European cities. Winterlong still makes my skin crawl and my legs squirm, the writing so precise and gut-wrenching that the second play from Sheridan, Hope Light and Nowhere, has a lot to live up to.
The world has ended. Edward (Alex Austin) sits in a grimly mouse-ridden room, a TV screen flickering, and a single light dangling from the ceiling. Within minutes of Hope Light and Nowhere we understand this is a dystopian world (we never fully find out why), and Edward is one of the remaining survivors. A twitching and nervous wreck, Austin’s Edward is somewhat loveable in the dirtiness of his appearance and manners. Two visitors arrive, both as grotty as Edward. Survival is paramount. A gobby Raffety (Be Lee) and blind Bleach (Richard Evans) pay Edward a visit.
Jean Chan’s design is a clever dirt pit, very fitting for the Underbelly playing place, and greatly aided by Richard Howell’s excellent lighting design. The dystopian world seeps through everyone and everything. There’s natural pararels to be drawn between Sheridan’s world and that of Philip Ridley’s plays. Unlike Ridley, however, whose dialogue flows like poetry, Sheridan’s writing is blunt and simplified, whilst still being rambling. A coherence is lost and makes me sad that expectations haven’t be met for this second play. Suba Das’s direction has a hand to play in the inability of the production to say or feel anything. We might be on the edge of the end of the world, but we care little about that or the characters.
It’s not a shocking play, although perhaps some audiences would be put off by the various rat-eating, eye-gauging scenes that take place. There’s certainly no sympathy to be found for the characters, and behind their gaunt faces, there is little to be understand from the world or from themselves. Ultimately Hope Light and Nowhere has so much promise, but it is not realised or challenged. At no point does it offer us something of the world around us, and for that it becomes a disappointment. There is some excellent acting from the cast of three, but this alone can’t stop the play from stagnating.
Hope Light and Nowhere is playing at Underbelly until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.