Comfort in the infinite - Light Waves Dark Skies (critical chinwag)

For my second critical chinwag outing I found myself travelling to Cardiff and my first visit to the Chapter Arts Centre in some years. And what a great small arts centre success story it is! It was great to be back.
The play is another micro success story - it started out as a National Theatre Wales 'Waleslab' project, which means that it was initially an exploratory project supported by NTW's creative development policy for new talent and project seeding. From there it has continued to develop and is about to become a touring production.
So it was really nice to see something that had started life in this way. As a piece of devised theatre it had a different feel to something that had been scripted. The whole first section of the play was a series of set pieces and monologues - I wondered whether perhaps these were drawn directly from the actors/ devisers investigation of their subject matter and while finding their characters. Rather than creating a story it painted a picture, and what we saw was 4 people pushing and pulling like a liFor my second critical chinwag outing I found myself travelling to Cardiff and my first visit to the Chapter Arts Centre in some years. And what a great small arts centre success story it is! It was great to be back.
The play is another micro success story - it started out as a National Theatre Wales 'Waleslab' project, which means that it was initially an exploratory project supported by NTW's creative development policy for new talent and project seeding. From there it has continued to develop and is about to become a touring production.
So it was really nice to see something that had started life in this way. As a piece of devised theatre it had a different feel to something that had been scripted. The whole first section of the play was a series of set pieces and monologues - I wondered whether perhaps these were drawn directly from the actors/ devisers investigation of their subject matter and while finding their characters. Rather than creating a story it painted a picture, and what we saw was 4 people pushing and pulling like a little boat caught in a squall... And we as the audience were tossed back and forth by each breaking wave of time and unsettling washes of the characters' feelings.

These characters were a mother - tense, awkward and distracted, a father - withdrawn and caught in another time and place, a child - full of life but lost at sea and now locked in the past, and a family friend - who was both angel and disrupter, an often unwelcome bringer of truth.
The child we heard as a voice, nearby but distant, sometimes from inside a tent as little stage within a stage, a place of bedtime stories, and wonderment at the skies above, with shadows dancing on its thin walls. Sometimes he was in conversation, sometimes he was just there - we saw him - a silent figure has drawn and projected on the wall. He was a very strong presence, precisely by not being there. This made his loss to his parents so clearly tragic, and they were so dumbly at a loss as to how to talk or behave with each other it was painful. Their friend Julia had a strong bond with boy, with their chatter of welsh words and tales of ancestors in the sky... but somehow her enthusiasm and strength antagonises the mother in particular. So when their child mysteriously disappears and Julia tries to help, she only adds to the tensions and difficulties between the parents, tho she is also the catalyst for them to heal...

The initial jumpy feel of the play with distinct scenes gave way to something more fluid. Both space and time became ambiguous as we started to understand the characters more we could follow these threads of their feelings and either it didn't matter where or when something happened, or it all mattered so much it was all still happening right now.
The characters started to interact more, sometimes in bewildering and difficult exchanges. We understand that the parents have lost their son but the exact circumstances remain a mystery to them, and they struggle to come to terms with this definite/ indefinite. In the most gripping, awful and heart rending sequence of the play, the parents sat either side of the table, neither able to meet the other in their lonely world, the mother frantically talking but soundless, the father grasping the table, completely at a loss/ in his loss. He bows his head but we gasp as it disappears into the table, which has somehow become a sink of water, and he holds his head there, seconds counting, minutes even, until he pulls upright again, drenched in water running down his face and body...
It was shocking, and it was like a short circuit that flashed a bright pulse of emotion through everyone.

The title of Light Waves Dark Skies was also the undulating current of the whole play, the characters returning again and again to sea or sky, both to search and also to console themselves.
Where to start with I questioned where lectures on star physics and myths of the sea fitted in (tho I did enjoy them!) these emerged as the only way to grapple with the unreconcilable - the infinite sky and unplummable depths of the sea made peace of a long stare.

The many interesting things about the play and its staging fuelled a lively conversation afterwards - starting with the time jumping and the shifting use of a fixed set, then onto the use of projections, plays of space and scale and the clever transitions between scenes that made a prop or a pose double up from one things end to another's beginning, then musings on the worlds that each parent had got stuck in and the fascinating role of Julia's character.
At this point we were lucky enough to join a larger group that included the actual cast, designer and producer. It was great to hear about the devising process - resulting in much more fluid roles and ideas. It was particularly intriguing to learn that the original waleslab session had not included the Julia character, she evolved much later on and it had helped crystallise the story.
I think we could all happily talk about theatre for ever (that's why we love critical chinwag!) and it was certainly very inspiring to hear about the creative process direct from those involved. Wher the play had had a cumulative and beguiling effect on me, I felt I also had a nice sense of the journey that made it. I was left with a strong visual afterburn of starlight and water, and felt strangely comforted.
ttle boat caught in a squall... And we as the audience were tossed back and forth by each breaking wave of time and unsettling washes of the characters' feelings.

These characters were a mother - tense, awkward and distracted, a father - withdrawn and caught in another time and place, a child - full of life but lost at sea and now locked in the past, and a family friend - who was both angel and disrupter, an often unwelcome bringer of truth.
The child we heard as a voice, nearby but distant, sometimes from inside a tent as little stage within a stage, a place of bedtime stories, and wonderment at the skies above, with shadows dancing on its thin walls. Sometimes he was in conversation, sometimes he was just there - we saw him - a silent figure has drawn and projected on the wall. He was a very strong presence, precisely by not being there. This made his loss to his parents so clearly tragic, and they were so dumbly at a loss as to how to talk or behave with each other it was painful. Their friend Julia had a strong bond with boy, with their chatter of welsh words and tales of ancestors in the sky... but somehow her enthusiasm and strength antagonises the mother in particular. So when their child mysteriously disappears and Julia tries to help, she only adds to the tensions and difficulties between the parents, tho she is also the catalyst for them to heal...

The initial jumpy feel of the play with distinct scenes gave way to something more fluid. Both space and time became ambiguous as we started to understand the characters more we could follow these threads of their feelings and either it didn't matter where or when something happened, or it all mattered so much it was all still happening right now.
The characters started to interact more, sometimes in bewildering and difficult exchanges. We understand that the parents have lost their son but the exact circumstances remain a mystery to them, and they struggle to come to terms with this definite/ indefinite. In the most gripping, awful and heart rending sequence of the play, the parents sat either side of the table, neither able to meet the other in their lonely world, the mother frantically talking but soundless, the father grasping the table, completely at a loss/ in his loss. He bows his head but we gasp as it disappears into the table, which has somehow become a sink of water, and he holds his head there, seconds counting, minutes even, until he pulls upright again, drenched in water running down his face and body...
It was shocking, and it was like a short circuit that flashed a bright pulse of emotion through everyone.

The title of Light Waves Dark Skies was also the undulating current of the whole play, the characters returning again and again to sea or sky, both to search and also to console themselves.
Where to start with I questioned where lectures on star physics and myths of the sea fitted in (tho I did enjoy them!) these emerged as the only way to grapple with the unreconcilable - the infinite sky and unplummable depths of the sea made peace of a long stare.

The many interesting things about the play and its staging fuelled a lively conversation afterwards - starting with the time jumping and the shifting use of a fixed set, then onto the use of projections, plays of space and scale and the clever transitions between scenes that made a prop or a pose double up from one things end to another's beginning, then musings on the worlds that each parent had got stuck in and the fascinating role of Julia's character.
At this point we were lucky enough to join a larger group that included the actual cast, designer and producer. It was great to hear about the devising process - resulting in much more fluid roles and ideas. It was particularly intriguing to learn that the original waleslab session had not included the Julia character, she evolved much later on and it had helped crystallise the story.
I think we could all happily talk about theatre for ever (that's why we love critical chinwag!) and it was certainly very inspiring to hear about the creative process direct from those involved. Wher the play had had a cumulative and beguiling effect on me, I felt I also had a nice sense of the journey that made it. I was left with a strong visual afterburn of starlight and water, and felt strangely comforted.

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