Review: YOU STUPID DARKNESS!

IN BRIEF Absorbing look at the values of optimism and community in a collapsing world

In the refuge of a run-down office, the motley crew of Brightline telephone helpline volunteers struggle to reassure callers that “it’s going to be alright” – even though the wailing sirens, gasmasks and explosions from the chaotic world outside their office are strongly indicating the reverse.

The team of four try to help callers- and themselves- weather the storms of uncertainty by providing a listening ear. They’re not that great at it, but they’re trying.

Team Leader Frances (Jenni Maitland) clings on to glib textbook motivational phrases, all the time stroking and cradling her ongoing pregnancy bump.

Jon (Andy Rush), a helpline old hand, is at times strident and jagged but his façade too is weakening in the face of a rocky relationship.

Angie (Lydia Larson) is a young woman who gets easily distracted, but connects with callers and cares about what she does.

And 17 year-old Joey (Andrew Finnigan), a work experience lad who has had no training, thrown into the deep end, unexpectedly proves himself a wise head on young shoulders. Finnigan brings a gentle thoughtfulness to this teenager trying to find his way.

Working through their own problems as they try to help others, the increasingly bleak outlook somehow does not impinge upon their determination to try to do…something. It’s perhaps something akin to what people might have called “the Blitz Spirit” in the Second World War.

These unrounded, incomplete characters show us flashes of their other selves but they, like the rest of the play, are never solid or secure, as if to further underline the insecurity under which these people labour.

Callers come and go, often hanging up without completion, and the uncertainty this breeds further fuels the instability of the project. Moments of poignancy, for example at the loss of a caller for reasons unknown, are nicely intercut with gentle, causal humour which give the script texture and depth.

What’s interesting is that you find yourself listening as hard as the volunteers to these incomplete, one-sided conversations in an attempt to make sense of them.

Our thought is “why do they bother?” but as it transpires, the people answering the calls get just as much out of the service as the callers they are listening to.

Sensitively and carefully written by Sam Steiner and acutely directed by James Grieve, despite the tensions and setbacks encountered, unexpected laughter often ripples through the show, bringing a warmth and humanity to an oppressive environment. (And if you’ve never heard angry trombone playing, it’s a hoot.) The cast are uniformly impressive.

The manky set works together with the excellent lighting and sound designs to expertly unsettle the audience along the way.

The show does feel rather overstretched in the latter stages, as it significantly resets our experience to reveal a surprisingly comforting ending, with the knowledge that just by doing something these four are making a difference. And as they say, where there’s life, there’s hope.


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