A typical dystopian sci-fi future. Fluorescent lights, an oppressive overlord state, super cool idealistic technology, an everyman protagonist. Such are the ingredients for any blockbuster action film with over average special effects – but this is not a film. This is a piece of theatre, and thus these clichéd typical elements suddenly feel fresh, clever and imaginative.
In Theatre Ad Infinitum’s Light, ideas like the age-old futuristic image of a person dressing by aid of a high-tech machine slotting on his sleeves, for example, seems revitalised. But the thin and predicable plot and overlong running time means that Light loses our attention almost as quickly as it gains it, and fails to create any lasting impact.
It’s all very Orwellian, right down to the overalls, and Theatre Ad Infinitum, director George Mann and sound designer/composer Chris Bartholomew do very well to create a recognisable future world. The piece follows Petros, a worker at dictatorship department Peace of Mind Headquarters, and examines his relationship with one particular terrorist he captures. The premise is interesting enough, and the means with which Theatre Ad Infinitum tell the story are fascinating, but a lot of the production’s wow-factor comes from the novelty. The use of torches, lamps and lights to create bizarre torture devices, thought messages, lifts and corridors is really quite inspired, and illicit several gasps from the audience.
Exciting and innovative as this is, by the time we’re deep into the production it becomes clear that this is far more interesting than the story Theatre Ad Infinitum is trying to tell or the message it is trying to put across. Its plot is textbook futuristic action film, as is the entirely unnecessary dialogue on a board above the action. The projected words not only feel unprofessional – was it the use of awkward font or the numerous tell-tale spelling and punctuation errors that most made that aspect of the production feel like a Year 5 PowerPoint presentation? – but patronising, as if we as audience members are entirely unable to follow the crystal-clear story line, even when the actors mime in big, exaggerated gestures. The plot of Light is one we’ve seen recycled again and again in Hollywood, and initially when the company premieres its theatrical take on sci-fi movie clichés it seems that the production has an aspect of knowing irony about it. Not so, it turns out as the production progresses.
Theatre Ad Infinitum shows through its draining side-shoot backstory flashback and the serious use of the projected dialogue (which, it must be said, really is poor) that it seems to wholeheartedly believe in the credibility of their predictable plot. Eerie as the world and atmosphere Theatre Ad Infinitum creates is, we haven’t really got anything new to learn from Light, a production that has, really, simply taken a dystopia film and placed it on stage. It’s the sound effects that impress most, more so after the performance when we realise that a great deal of it is done live by Mann. The synchronisation is impressive; the company are in tune with each other and perfectly on cue, meaning the whole production is incredibly slick. All five members of the company give energetic performances, all able to effectively carry the strong mime elements of the production.
But by the time we get to the end of Light, no matter how skilled the performers are there still exists the lingering sense that we’ve seen them go through the same motions far too many times. The plot is so obvious and unimportant, the piece tiring and develops very little, and the whole play seems a little self-indulgent. I wished that Theatre Ad Infinitum hadn’t patronised us with so laborious a storyline or repetitive a production, and I couldn’t help feeling as I left the theatre that Light would have benefited from cutting it down considerably and, so to speak, leaving us in the dark a little more.
Light is playing the Pleasance until 25 August For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance website.