Written By: Chris Daley
Date: November 2 2018
Location: Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
“You’re never too old for hopes and dreams; there’s always time for plans and schemes.”
Coming into The Missing Light, I’ll be honest: I had very little knowledge of what the production entailed. Sometimes I think it’s better that way – no preconceptions about what the show is supposed to be or what to expect. I knew it involved some puppetry and animation and what set in a fishing village, but that was about it.
Upon the lights-up on stage, I was greeted with a central screen where the narrative was portrayed. This was made possible by several cameras mounted across the stage filming the different actions of the individual performers. Through a mix of small puppets and simple animation, three of the performers darted between the various different settings within the production, with a fourth operating presumably the music and cameras. The result was quite simply mesmerising.
Initially, I was drawn more to the performers rather than the narrative playing out on the screen, as their timing and organisation had to be impeccable in order to deliver the images we saw in the centre. David Emmings, Samantha Arends, Sam Clark and Julia Slienger all worked perfectly as a team and what they created for us was remarkable.
The Missing Light tells a story of an elderly woman mourning for her long-lost husband and how the arrival of Warple, an ageing inventor also now alone, impacts on her life. The opening five minutes or so establishes Hilda’s story. We see the simple fishing village life or her husband venturing out each day to catch the fish, and how she spends all day selling them at the market. It shows how simple country life can be; both predictably repetitive and yet simultaneously charming and beautiful. The highlight of the couple’s day is to that Hilda’s husband makes it home safe, and they share some toffee apples as a treat. Every day, Hilda returns home from the market and looks out to make sure she can see her husband’s light on his small fishing boat to know she is safe. Inevitably, a day comes when she looks out but no light can be seen, and we learn how she lost her husband at sea.
I always try to not refer to other works in my reviews as I believe it can take something away from the originality of the production, but the influences and parallels to be drawn from the start of the Pixar film “UP” cannot be denied. It is just as moving and just as heartbreaking to see such pure and innocent souls ripped apart, even more so when we see that years later Hilda still looks out each evening in vain, hoping to see her husband’s light. This emotional is conveyed flawlessly through simple puppet gestures, a lack of dialogue and perfectly judged music. One of my pet hates in any drama (more often in films than plays) is when the characters stand around explaining the plot. It’s so refreshing to find a production that respects its audience enough to know they will understand the narrative and the characters without having the plot rammed down their throat.
Having said that, the only time the production lost me was towards the final third. Having seen a light out at see, Warple decides to help Hilda journey out to discover if it is indeed her long-lost husband. Incidentally, the montage of their adventure together involving huge waves, submarines, hot air balloons and even sea monsters was one of the funniest laugh-out-loud moments I’ve seen in any production for a good while. However, on reaching their location, they find that inevitably the light is not her long-lost husband but a fairground ride, soon to close. Seemingly in the middle of the ocean? They then embark upon a joyful evening together at the fair which is beautifully sweet and touching, and of course it ends in Warple and Hilda sharing toffee apples the way she used to with her husband. Touching as this section was, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I maybe could have done as I was hung up on how this fairground had just appeared.
However, the ensuing scene and the way the production ended had me virtually tearing up, and I do not cry. Traditional tear-jerkers usually leave me stony-faced. But this really got me. Whether it was all supposed to be a metaphor for not being able to move on from life to death until one has let go of their grief, or it was genuinely meant to be just a fair ground in the middle of the sea, I’m still not sure. I watched this with a lot of primary schools, and the sophistication of this metaphor may well be lost on them. But they obviously found enough of it funny and moving, as there were laughs and tears from many of the children in equal measure.
Overall, I loved this production. Mark Arends has got everything spot-on for me, from the original music to the superbly-judged tone of the whole piece. Two people sharing moments towards the end of their lives could easily be quite depressing, especially considering how the narrative begins. Yet it has just the right amount of poignancy and also the right amount of comedy so that we aren’t crying every second.
Truly heartfelt, genuinely engaging and, at points, laugh-out-loud. A fantastic production with a great sentiment and message at its core.
Overall Rating: 9/10 – Outstanding