DramaNorth WestReview

How My Light Is Spent – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Writer: Alan Harris

Director: Liz Stevenson

Reviewer: Jo Beggs

Once a week Jimmy spends nine minutes on a premium-rate phone line to Kitty. As the minutes and his hard-earned cash tick away at £1.20 a minute, Kitty makes him just a bit feel less lonely.

Alan Harris’s clever, poignant play reads like an epic poem, its urgent dialogue and scene-setting narration weaving seamlessly together, its simple language belying the play’s depth of content. On Fly Davis’s simple, industrial set, Alexandria Riley (Kitty) and Rhodri Meilir (Jimmy) create a complex world of two remote lives, lived out in small town South Wales, which, when they collide, create a very special kind of magic.

The humour and humility of Harris’s sharp script is only enhanced by two brilliant performances from Riley and Meilir, and the intimacy of the Exchange’s studio space. The two performers lock eyes with audience members as they narrate the tale, share Kitty and Jimmy’s raw, personal stories with delightful directness, laying bare the vulnerability of these two lost individuals.

Mailir’s performance is particularly compelling. His physical portrayal of the conflicted Jimmy is both commanding and vulnerable, while he reserves a whole other, somehow smaller, physicality when portraying minor characters – doughnut shop boss Peake and Kitty’s lovelorn landlord Stevo. Mailir has wonderful comic timing and squeezes every last laugh out of Harris’s sharp black comedy.

Joshua Pharo’s lighting design brings a huge amount of drama to Alan Harris’s light-touch, but powerful direction, picking out minute movements and key moments in the story, and creating multiple settings out of nowhere – the park, Jimmy’s bedroom, the neon-lit doughnut takeaway where Jimmy and Kitty play out their final, almost mystical scene.  With light used as a metaphor for life, it’s one element of the production that you can’t afford to get wrong.

How My Light Is Spent won the Judge’s Award in the 2015 Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, the Exchange’s well-established bi-annual competition through which some great new writing, and writers, have emerged. Welsh writer Alan Harris has plenty of radio and stage plays, adaptations, and even opera on his impressive CV, but all that is irrelevant in the selection of the Bruntwood shortlist, with plays selected from anonymous submission. There’s no surprise, though, that this subtle, compelling, and beautifully crafted work caught the judges’ attention.

There are plenty of opportunities to see How My Light Is Spent, both over its three-week run at the Exchange and then at the Sherman theatre in Cardiff and the Theatre By The Lake in Keswick. It’s well worth seventy minutes of anybody’s time.

Runs until 13 May 2017 | Image: Contributed


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The North West team is under the editorship of John Roberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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