Kiwi playwright Stephen Sinclair’s Remain in Light is a juggernaut allegory for our times – a one-act play set in a dystopian world where the sun no longer rises. The world premiere was staged at Takapuna’s PumpHouse Theatre on Saturday night to a nearly full house.
With all its resources exhausted, the world is plunged into darkness and the remains of the human race scramble blindly in the never-ending night, searching for food and shelter, seeking safety and forming alliances in a desperate effort to survive. And always seeking light.
The play opens with Christopher Auva’a’s narration, a storyteller in traditional garb drawing us in with speculation and possibilities. What happened? When? Why? Behind him, the stage is littered with small bodies, lying beneath a vast grey canvas who finally stir and cavort in a frenzy before racing out of sight – feral children who grunt and crawl, reduced to savages.
We meet the taciturn Dave (Lincoln Master) and his sweet partner, Sarah (Emma-Mae Eglinton), a couple who keep getting lost. He decides she is more trouble than she is worth and abandons her. Young lovers Radar (Dylan Underwood) and Dawn (Grace Goulter) wander along and dance exuberantly as they shoot a precious flare into the sky, overjoyed to be in the light if only for a few moments – until they are attacked by the predatory Beara (Saale Ilaua) – drawn by the light. In their effort to escape, they run into the gruesomely Fagin-esque Nan (Vanya Essin) who forces them to join his gang of feral children and scavenge for him.
Alone and terrified, Sarah stumbles upon an artist (Paul Roukchan), a dissolute drunk who shares his food and feeds her dreams by painting idyllic landscapes with words – when he is sober. And when he is too drunk, she begins to create them herself, imagining a verdant world filled with golden light.
Meanwhile Dave has found treasure while ransacking an abandoned laboratory – a strange light that glows and will never fade, a light which gives him power. The one thing everyone longs for is light and the light is his! His first acquisition is a blonde bombshell, Carlotta (Hannah Martin), a woman who paid him no notice when they worked together in an office. Now she happily drapes herself around him and the spoils of the power of the light. As the others are drawn to the light they become their slaves.
If all this sounds bleak, how could it not? There are however, many moments of comic relief and wry wit as the characters reflect on their absurd situation, in the vain Carlotta’s demand for a fur coat and Vanya Essin’s delightfully over the top characterisation of the vile Nan. And there is an underlying theme of hope and faith which propels them all and keeps us, the audience, engaged.
There is not one wasted word in Sinclair’s spare script. His characters are basic human archetypes – you know who they are – they are people you’ve met – their desires and fears are universal. Director and long-time collaborator Elena Stejko brings them to life both exaggerating and underplaying, drawing exceptional performances from each of the 17-member cast. We can’t help but love Sarah, bemoan the waste the Artist has become, loathe the sadistic Nan, pity the lovers and despise Dave and Carlotta.
The silent player is of course, the Light, and lighting designer Duncan Milne has created a lightless world, playing with hues and lighting effects so the audience can actually see the play, while the characters are blinded.
It’s a short leap to find the parallels in our world. “Trump 4 Prez” is scrawled on a graffitied wall and comparisons of Trump’s rise to power and Dave’s sudden elevation to master are easily drawn. As are the false promises of a false light. And the hope that can only be found in the visionaries and dreamers, no matter how broken and desperate they may seem. Remain in Light ends with optimism – we can only hope that is also true for us.
Sinclair has so many themes and undercurrents bubbling below the surface of this seemingly simple story, so many ideas to ponder and explore. It will be days before I sort them all – which is exactly what a good play is meant to do. And Remain in Light is a bloody good play!
Remain in Light is playing at The PumpHouse Theatre in Takapuna from 25 February – 4 March. Tickets are available HERE.
Liz Gunn interviewed director Stephen Sinclair in The 13th Floor Studio earlier in the week. Watch the interview here: https://www.13thfloor.co.nz/?p=80928