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Paines Plough presents ‘You Stupid Darkness’ at Southwark Playhouse.
Whether you live in London or not, if you have an interested in contemporary theatre you are likely to have bumped into Paines Plough at some point in the last 45 years or so. A touring company focussing on new productions, they’ve now produced more than 150 shows by a stellar line-up of world-renown playwrights. And, they go literally all over the world. It’s easy to miss things in the cluttered theatreland of London but Southwark Playhouse is pretty much on my doorstep, so I really had little excuse. Having shown at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth last year Sam Steiner’s play ‘You Stupid Darkness is now at Southwark Playhouse until 22 February 2020.
What exactly is happening outside the confines of the Brightline Offices is never entirely clear, but the world is certainly disintegrating. The quartet of support workers, Frances, Joey, Angie and Jon arrive wearing gas masks. Amy Jane Cook’s design of the office itself starts looking as if it is due serious refurbishment with crumbling walls and charred sockets.
The posters on the wall may have positive messages but they hide the cracks. By the final scene the office has lost all power, been flooded and half the desks have fallen apart. A dystopian setting, the world as we know it reduced to rubble. But, as the ever-optimistic Frances says
“I just think it’s, you know, important to look at the good things that are happening as well.”
There’s no single storyline. Each of the quartet has their own tale to tell from Frances (Jenni Maitland), the beaming, pregnant team leader through to Jon (Andy Rush) the gay trombone player who turns out to have marital problems when his partner calls the Brightline number.
Joey the 17-year-old work experience trainee is perfectly and annoyingly characterised by Andrew Finnigan while Lydia Larson as Angie is emotional, vulnerable and as apparently in need of support as the callers she chats with. Inevitably, it is Angie who handles the suicidal caller and struggles to come to terms with the final result.
What I found engaging wasn’t the story as such but the musicality of the production. The script is laid out landscape, with two or three columns of the script running consecutively.
The actors are almost but not quite rapping at times with the counterpoint of words carrying the audience. As we become more familiar, there are leitmotifs –
‘Hello Brightline, you’re through to someone you can talk to’
‘I’m going to get doughnuts’
‘Nobody wants to leave anything here?’
We gradually form our own perception of each character and, at least in my case, make our own assumptions about why they have volunteered in the first place.
And, in the end, we are left questioning as the set darkens. This world is ending with a whimper…
Excellent acting from all four members of the cast together with atmospheric lighting and simple but effective staging made this an engaging evening.
16 January – 22 February
77-85 Newington Causeway,
London SE1 6BD
Looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat before the show at Southwark Playhouse? We recommend Battles and Bottles at Mercato Metropolitano across the road from the theatre or The Artworks at Elephant