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How My Light Is Spent review at Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – ‘oddball optimism’

Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley in How My Light Is Spent at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan Alexandria Riley and Rhodri Meilir in How My Light Is Spent at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Jonathan Keenan
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The growth of social media might suggest we are all closely connected, but the premier of Alan Harris’ play explores social disengagement and how it’s all too easy to disappear between the cracks.

Set in economically drab Newport and performed on Fly Davis’ suitably bland paving stone set, it’s immediately obvious why this two-hander won the 2015 Bruntwood Prize judges’ award.

In some respects Harris is engaging with concerns about the socially overlooked that were also explored in Katherine Soper’s Wish List, the overall Bruntwood winner in the same year. But his is a uniquely theatrical voice, presenting us with characters struggling to reconnect with their lost sense of self, and written to be performed as a combination of real-time dialogue and third-person narrative.

There’s a warm glow at the heart of this quirky exploration of social invisibility and self-rediscovery. Jimmy is in his mid-30s. He’s hooked on fantasy phone sex and still lives with his mum. After he loses his non-job at a doughnut restaurant, he wakes up scared one morning when his hands disappear.

But as his body parts dematerialise, his on-off relationship with sex line operator Kitty generates the spark of human closeness that could bring back his sense of identity.

Liz Stevenson’s studio production perfectly captures the play’s oddball optimism, with illuminating direct-to-audience performances from Rhodri Meilir, wearing an awful bowl cut hairdo as the increasingly invisible Jimmy, a man approaching his own vanishing point, and Alexandria Riley as the more resourceful Kitty, both discovering why it’s impossible to feel part of anything if you’ve become socially disconnected.

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A quirky, relevant, optimistic humanising play about the socially unseen