Light at Battersea Arts Centre
It is often suggested that the distorted and sinister aesthetic of the German Expressionist movement in the 1920s was a reaction to the aftermath of the Great War – a world torn apart and unbalanced. Light, a returning theatre performance by Theatre Ad Infinitum playing at Battersea Arts Centre, appropriates the Expressionist mode to address a more contemporary concern: state surveillance and the extended reach of tech firms, in a story about a totalitarian regime that controls its populace through mind-reading brain implants.
Just like in German Expressionism, the actors gesticulate heavily, the lighting is oppressive and embracing of super-heavy chiaroscuro lighting, and the environment created is one of terror and disturbance. Particularly, because of the muted performances of the actors involved, silent German Expressionist cinema is heavily evoked, especially Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927). As it is, there is a palpable feeling that this dystopian tale has been told numerous times before, and the show has few delusions of that when referencing cinematic work by Kubrick, Gilliam and, naturally, the literature of Orwell. But never have audiences seen it told like this. Though in debt to other forms, this is also unique to the stage experience.
The creativity of the lighting in this piece cannot be understated; it has to be seen to believed. An entire oppressive world is generated through the work of five actors, a couple of lights at any given time, and a thumping techno soundtrack that remixes classical music and retro-futurism. The precision of each component working together in unison operates like clockwork (someone even performs literal clockwork). This is a suitable, though undeniably ironic, mode of expression for a play about totalitarian discipline.
The message is entirely simplistic – “Control is bad. Freedom is good.” – and the narrative familiar and lacking in nuance, but it is the meticulous and innovative execution of the production, in all of its neon glory, that astonishes. For this reason alone, theatregoers should be purchasing a ticket for this electric cautionary tale.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Light is at Battersea Arts Centre from 10th until 15th October 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the trailer for Light here: