revew: Contact Young Company – There is a Light: BRIGHTLIGHT
There is a Light: BRIGHTLIGHT/
Contact Young Company/
dir Adura Onashile/
We might not even notice where our love or distaste for something might come from but that won’t stop it from hitting us viscerally. We don’t always experience what we value consciously. When it comes to theatre, I’ve given myself all this practice at translating my relationship between it, me and my values but in general they’re still all marbled in to myself and the parts of me I understand least. I can tell you the things I value about Contact Young Company; I value their refusal to patronise, I value their ability to make professional-standard work, I value their scope. Their existence at all I believe to be important.
I want to be clearer what the loss I feel is when I learn that Lyn Gardner’s contract with the Guardian is cut. In response to an email, the Guardian have helpfully told me that the thing I am worried about is actually something other than what I told them and that actually the thing I’m really worried about doesn’t exist anyway. Meanwhile, in the places people listen to each other, it is being suggested that we crowdfund Lyn Gardner or subscribe to the Guardian in greater numbers. I struggle to understand from what concepts of worth we ought to take our cues.
One recurring theme of There is a Light is that young people do not want to be patronised. Cancer is big and scary and young people get it. Young people get cancer and they get that cancer is big and scary. A switch does not flick when we hit 16/18/21/25/30 which transforms us into a person suddenly capable of things we were not before. Cancer affects young people in the same way it affects anyone younger or older than them. And to be honest, I think older people are patronised just as much as the younger – it just gets less shocking or more subtle.
There are members of the cast of There is a Light who have, or have had, cancer. And they share their stories with us, openly and honestly, often without finesse – which works to the stories’ and their tellers’ credit. These are real people, these are their stories. And here is something which CYC is consistently good at – giving its company members space to be themselves. Above other things, this is a value which the company keeps at its core.
My difficulty with There is a Light is that it has a cast of twenty-two and is an hour long and it feels spread far too thin. This feels like the result of trying to give everyone their share of time onstage, and their share of the stake in telling their story. But the show is about an hour long, and the myriad separate sections fit together with visible seams.
I do not begrudge There is a Light for lacking focus; our problems are myriad, and they come at us from every angle. But, y’know, I’ve been on CYC’s side since I saw Under the Covers in 2015. The cast seem overwhelmed, stunned a little in the headlights of the world and the pieces of it which are falling apart – which shows itself as the audience are met at numerous points with stabs of anger at NHS cuts, Brexit, and the lack of care provision in the UK.
It is a messy show; performers cycle on in groups, jumping from one performance style and piece of research to another, rarely with enough time for the dust to be whipped up, let alone settle. I’ve nothing against mess, but There is a Light does not feel like a single piece, more a succession of small pieces, none of which are given enough time to really stretch their limbs. There isn’t the tightness of execution here that I have come to expect from CYC’s shows. There is not a single moment, though, that is not charming, or warm. Though the show feels more like a set of sample swatches than a finished suite, I do not doubt that the process has been valuable.
I’m on side. And I think the project of CYC is important. And as much as theatre is a machine for wrangling meaning, part of that meaning is in the knowledge of how the show has been created, and who it has been created with, just as much as the onstage content and form. Entertainment eases the passing but sometimes I get more caught up in the project. The mode is as much the message as the medium is.
I leave There is a Light thinking that there are at least three different shows buried inside it. I would not hesitate to watch an entire one hour comedy set from Amy Vreeke, for example.
I leave with a tremendous amount of love, still. Love for a crammed, messy thing. But in the knowledge of what I value (and finishing this revew from a distance of well over a week), the process behind this work has overridden, a little, what disappointment I feel otherwise.
What I value is the work that Contact Young Company continue to do, with and for young people, and for us.