A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light
August 8-19 (2:30pm)
Billiard Room, Gilded Balloon Teviot
A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light centres on Jude (Maya Achan) and Leon (Malcolm Ebose), their meeting, and the events that have brought them to this dreamlike world, with a sprinkling of magic and mental health. Framed with a surreal gameshow format, hosted by the relentlessly energetic Fizz (Charlotte Cromie) and Terry (Ed Paget), the play takes us through childhood memories and personal revelations at whirlwind pace. Added to the mix is song and bold costume, largely supplied by the punny Frankie Valium (Harry Burke).
Playwright, Ben Maier’s voice comes through strongly in the flashback scenes between Jude and Leon. The script verges on poetic, with the result pleasingly lyrical. The meeting on the train in particular is endearing, with Achan and Ebose displaying convincing warmth and tenderness in their portrayals. Leon’s ability to make people disappear is unexpected and intriguing, and the direction allows for a subtlety that made these, albeit temporary, forays into magic realism strong.
For me, however, these strong scenes did not meld into the framing device of the gameshow. It was loud, and messy, sometimes literally with tinfoil and glitter all over the studio space. The two host characters felt like archetypes, the frantic Fizz seemed to have just one setting. The choice of framing device and decision to portray caricatures is eventually explained, however, a large section of the play is spent around these two-dimensional characters. Without any emotional progression they were unsatisfying to watch, particularly when contrasting with the beautifully drawn Leon and Jude. The trope of Fizz as the long-suffering ex-wife craving attention felt tired, and did not demonstrate what Cromie demonstrated herself to be capable of as an actor in the few tender moments she was afforded. I couldn’t help but feel our gameshow hosts could have been more rounded, given quirks of their own, rather than just serving as the device they are revealed to be. Whilst also disjointed, the character of Frankie Valium, the most surreal of all the cast was comic and unexpected, and he was portrayed with gusto by Burke.
For me the tender heart of the show, the central story between Leon and Jude was strong enough to stand alone, and the clear aptitude for writing would carry this successfully.
The direction of the opening scene, complete with minimal lighting and staging, was strong and engaging, but this clarity seemed lost in the surreal gameshow world that unfolded. Through much of the show there was too much going on for any of the talent to breathe, and the choice to take characters offstage and behind the audience was distracting rather than engaging.
That said – it was enjoyable to watch a young company having so much fun, and bringing so much energy into the space. Whilst it wasn’t perfect, there was plenty to enjoy and the fringe is the perfect opportunity to experiment and take risks.
I’d be interested in seeing where the company go next, and what this play could develop into after its fringe run.