Live Theatre’s artistic director Joe Douglas makes his directorial debut for the company with Clear White Light, Paul Sirett’s contemporary take on The Fall of the House of Usher.
Relocated to a Newcastle hospital and with a soundtrack of songs by Lindisfarne’s Alan Hull, it’s not an obvious match of music and material, and takes a while to cohere.
The first half is uneven and overlong, although a strong cast – some doing double duty as the band – hold the attention in the lulls. Bryony Corrigan excels as student Alison, facing her first nightshift, while Joe Caffrey is gently jaded as staff nurse Rod. As the mysterious Maddie, Charlie Hardwick (so good recently in The Last Ship) does sterling duty on vocals, and the rest of the cast are sympathetic in their roles. All are well-served by Neil Warmington’s sparse, spooky set.
A taut, twisty second half delivers some genuine surprises and has real emotional heft. The piece was developed in collaboration with staff and service users at the real-life St Nick’s hospital, and it shows. It pulls off the difficult trick of setting a gothic story in a mental care facility without demonising those with mental health issues, their illnesses never used for cheap laughs or easy scares.
It’s an unashamedly political piece, seamed through with fury at the neglect of the NHS and the human cost that has. A rousing finale exhorts us to bring down the Government, and it’s this anger that gives the production its power.