“Brightline. You’re through to someone you can talk to,” are the words that greet you when you call into the helpline akin to the Samaritans. Every Tuesday evening, a group of volunteers sit down in a dingy office, trying to bring optimism to a world which is falling apart around them. Hanging their gas masks on a coatrack by the front door, the four try to tell strangers that everything is going to be ok. Teetering on the edge of their own catastrophes, Frances, Jon, Angie and Joey must figure out what makes them connect with each other and with the future.
With You Stupid Darkness! Sam Steiner shares an important message: hope is only lost when there is no one left to listen. His bleak sense of humour carries us through the ups and downs of a time when everything seems to be collapsing. Steiner gives us permission to laugh, the emotions his play provokes bringing the audience together as a community.
Designer Amy Jane Cook has created a setting which is immediately recognisable. A cramped space, old-school phones and computers, files and folders everywhere, motivational posters and diagrams trying to cover the shabbiest parts of the wall. Future and past overlap, giving the set a sense of being stuck in time. The steady deterioration of the office gives the audience an impression of the world gradually descending into chaos.
Seven-months-pregnant Frances, played by Jenni Maitland, is the mother hen of the group. Exhaustingly cheerful and encouraging though Frances is, Maitland also brings a vulnerability to her character. Cracks start appearing in what was once a shining armour of positivity.
Lydia Larson adds gravitas to Angie’s presumed innocence. The strength in Larson’s performance makes it even more painful to witness her sense of hope shatter after one fateful call.
Andy Rush plays Jon, a darker character trying to find light in pretending to care about the caller’s problems. Rush is a force of an actor, his presence on stage flickering between an amusing sense of realism and moments of silent anger and pain which hold the audience entranced in a deeply private moment.
Andrew Finnigan gives a delightfully awkward performance as 17-year-old Joey. Finnigan captures the anxiety of finishing school and walking into an undetermined future.
You Stupid Darkness! reminds us that, sometimes, the most urgent stories are best shared through laughter and that optimism doesn’t mean you are blind to what is right in front of you. After all, “it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”.
You Stupid Darkness! is playing at the Southwark Playhouse until 22 February 2020. For more information and tickets, see the Southwark Playhouse website.