Writer: Corinne Salisbury
Director: Catherine Exposito
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
If knowledge is power, then social mediums are its deities. We feed them daily, pray to them and seek their approval. Strange Town theatre company recognises these platforms’ monstrous yet seductive omnipotence. Aspiring to bring emerging Scottish talent to the forefront they are fast becoming a fully recognised name. Their endeavour to communicate the fears of the unknown, reliance on shared information and the allure in the private is their latest venture with The Darkness or Else The Light.
Corinne Salisbury’s writing is an inventive take for the creator, though it suffers from poor pacing, largely down to the productions runtime. Followers of Charlie Brooker, or of the guiltiest of all pleasures Pretty Little Liars will note a few more than uncomfortable similarities. Thematically the message is put across – and with digging, a few hidden treasures are excavated which send shudders to their potential real-life propagandist usage: ‘If everyone shares, everyone is equal’.
With such a large cast comes the worry of favouritism from the audience – we wish to see one character’s tale more than the rest. Performers such as Iskra Hearn are making the rights steps to a career in theatre. Alongside Hearn, the cast portraying ‘Voices’ an antagonistic chorus shrieking in the chaos of networking, are the ones we crave more from. With so many overlapping stories, we want to see Hearn’s part as Lorna more than the other main cast.
Pacing, along with weak transitions cause confusion as we leap blindly from scenario to scenario. Starting in an enigmatic meeting, orchestrated so seven acquaintances are coerced by a programme into spilling secrets. This concept alone is an entire production. Though instead, we leap into the past – present and the future (which still feels like the past). As the programme is now mobile, viral and evolving with teens help to ‘go public’ and out their darkest secrets. This too is a genius concept of the social pressures facing the so-called ‘snowflake’ generation. Its commentary on the targeted marketing we are all subjected to is subtle, well-crafted and explained carefully. Yet, regrettably, ambition takes hold as once more the plot shifts into a test which determines one’s employability and worth to society. In total, three separate and relatively unique concepts are smashed into one awkwardly paced performance.
It’s safe to fear the unknown, society has been doing it for millennia – it’s a base human phobia. Superficially though, The Darkness or Else The Light fails to adhere its own creed. Anxiety in the modern era festers in a lack of knowledge, a message they communicate valiantly. Though without this exploration, the technologies and experiences utilised in the show would not exist. Salisbury’s writing offers an exceptionally important message regarding our own self-value against social media pressure to share, but she offers no message of how to control or restraint against this issue.
So, admit it – there’s an appeal surrounding the darkness. Whether this is a desire to gather information or even a seduction in re-inventing ourselves. Strange Town manifests an excellent reasoning as to the rejection of this unforeseen comfort in the dark. Yet fails to provide those shunned by the light, through bullying or self-torture, a reason why the light is the better alternative. Commendably performed, Strange Town is a company who has no issues drawing itself out of the shadows, standing firmly in the light for us all to bear.
Performances continue 15-16 June 2018 at Leith Theatre and 23-24 June 2018 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre | Image: Contributed