Southwark Playhouse, London – until 22 February 2020
Sam Steiner‘s play You Stupid Darkness! is set in a decaying office where four volunteers man a helpline – Brightline – trying to help people look on the bright side. Inspirational posters cover water stains and holes in the wall with messages such as “It will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.”
The world outside the office isn’t in a much better state. Nothing is directly discussed but the volunteers arrive wearing gas masks, you can hear sirens going off outside and there are hints from occasional remarks.
New volunteer 17-year-old Joey (Andrew Finnigan) comments that he hasn’t seen a pregnant woman since he was 12. When he says he prefers not to look too far ahead, it isn’t the words of an apathetic teenager but a young person for whom the future genuinely doesn’t hold a lot of promise. Brightline, it seems, is like the cheery posters covering up far more serious problems.
There are enough little clues to build a bleak picture to contrast with Frances and the team’s upbeat attitude, although there are hints of their own struggles too and dramas too. Steiner’s dialogue blends grim human struggles and tragedy with everyday chat, cheerfulness and mundane repetition of office life. It is pregnant with meaning and lifted expertly off the page by the cast.
Often more than one volunteer will be on the phone at the same time so that you get only snatches their conversations which are a mixture of revealing and funny. In fact there are a few moments when I was in fits of giggles.
Each volunteer has their own approach and personality and you can’t help but get swept along in the trials and tribulations of their work and what little you know about their lives outside. It feels like a safe space that the external world is constantly probing, testing their resolve to remain positive.
The narrative doesn’t quite sustain the running time and towards the end of the first half, it feels like it is running out of ideas. Nonetheless, the cheerfulness is endearing, the stoicism and occasionally lapses profoundly human.
You don’t realise quite how protective you feel about them, it creeps up on and hits you at the end.
Given everything that is going on in the world politically and environmentally You Stupid Darkness! feels like it has captured the mood, the battle to stay cheerful and hopeful when everything feels like it is falling apart.
I really enjoyed You Stupid Darkness! It is funny, haunting, moving and strangely uplifting. I’m giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
It is two hours and 20 minutes including an interval You can see it at the Southwark Playhouse until 22 February.
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