Royal Exchange, Manchester – until 16 November 2019
Light Falls is Sarah Frankcom’s swan song as artistic director at the Royal Exchange. And what a moving and beautifully crafted performance to leave on. Light Falls is one of the best performances I have ever seen at the Royal Exchange and the most perfect work to bow out on.
Written by Simon Stephens, who fittingly was the first writer that Frankcom commissioned when she became literary manager at the theatre, Light Falls is an intense study of a family who are drawn back together following a single and unpredictable tragedy.
The concepts explored are simple and universal; the play blends ideas of family, closeness, connection with individualism, community, those things that pull us closer together and the stuff that pushes us further apart. Most people will be able to relate and that is the foundation of the play’s appeal.
We are introduced to a series of characters who are at different points in their lives; all are connected as members of the same family. The play opens with a monologue from the mother, Christine, played by Rebecca Manley, who despite riding the wagon for the past nine months, embarks on a mission to pick up a bottle of Vodka from her local Co-Op.
Sadly and unpredictably, while doing so, she suffers a fatal brain-hemorrhage. We are privy to her thoughts in her moment of death as she worries about her children and what they are doing at that exact time. Remaining on stage throughout, she keeps a kind-hearted, ghostly watch over her husband and three children. It’s a clever conceit which is handled perfectly throughout, through both the direction and individual performances; Stephens writes from the heart – lyrically with a healthy dose of wit.
Manley gives a strong performance – a calm though passionate maternal figure – from her opening monologue through to her appearances as other characters and apparitions. Dressed in a woolen blue coat, she seems to represent beliefs around after-life, how we deal with grief and the love that survives us when we are gone.
All of the cast shine, with particular stand-out performances from Katie West as daughter Ashe – struggling with her own mental health, trying to bring her son up on her own; Christine’s husband, played by Lloyd Hutchinson, who is randomly trying to arrange a hotel threesome as his wife reaches for the vodka, and David Moorst as youngest sibling, law-student Steven who is joyful to be reunited with his boyfriend, who works for an airline.
The whole performance is bound together by music from Jarvis Cocker. It’s actually just one song, ‘Hymn of the North’ which pops up frequently throughout the play. It’s a bit like a warm, comfort blanket that weaves itself into the performance.
Light Falls is a wholly satisfying, uplifting and unmissable performance. Definitely recommend.
Light Falls runs at the Royal Exchange until 16 November 2019.