You Stupid Darkness! review at Theatre Royal, Plymouth – ‘unflinchingly truthful’
Life has a way of carrying on, even in the face of catastrophe. With the world quietly coming to an end offstage, You Stupid Darkness sees four volunteers clinging to hope as they run a Samaritans-style emotional support helpline.
Playwright Sam Steiner has a knack for using offbeat stories to explore pressing issues – his previous play, Kanye the First, was similarly audacious, a surreal and searching modern fable. Here, though, there’s even less dramatic drive, with what little plot there is developing through a series of delicate, disjointed character sketches, some tender, some bleak, and many desperately funny.
It feels more like a collection of poems than a play, a work of extraordinary observation and overflowing empathy that’s given plenty of space to breathe by director James Grieve’s measured staging. Precise comic pauses and eloquent nonverbal interactions add depth to the already rich text, while the uniformly excellent cast wring emotional truthfulness out of every line.
Becci Gemmell is all brittle optimism as heavily-pregnant coordinator Frances, her desperate determination counterbalanced by David Carlyle’s caller-turned-volunteer Jon, who stalks the crumbling office doling out advice and flawless deadpan pessimism.
Meanwhile, Peter Small’s moody lighting design becomes almost another character in itself, with abrupt blackouts, flickers, and indefinably ominous psychedelic glows establishing an unsettling atmosphere of slow decay.
Transcending its flaws, this is a moving, original, and ultimately hopeful production, which neatly captures and crystalizes the unspoken but all-pervasive undercurrent of creeping dread that defines our current moment.
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