Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Youth Panel Review: There is a Light

Contact Young Company/BRIGHTLIGHT
Contact Young Company
Contact Theatre
09 March 2017 to 10 March 2017

"There are two C-words," a young woman tells us from behind a microphone, stand-up comedy style. "I'm only allowed to say one of them in this show."

The permitted C-word is 'cancer'. Contact Young Company's 22-strong cast explore young people's experiences with the disease in There is a Light, a project developed as part of the Brightlight research programme. Many of them draw on personal experience of a condition that, as they tell us during a barrage of statistics, will affect half of all Britons.

Scenes are loosely gathered into the stages of a cancer 'journey', with words like diagnosis, support, and survival projected onto the stage in turn. Within that loose structure, a great variety of things happen – everything from a song about losing a loved one to cancer, through stand-up, tap dancing and physical theatre, to a whole episode of 'NHS Treatment Blind Date'. Each new technique or style is embodied expertly by the cast: whether they are making us laugh or bringing tears to our eyes, it's a pleasure to watch. Themes such as stigma, sexuality, grief and frustration are by turns hinted at or screamed at us in scene after powerful scene.

There's little in the way of props or setting, but there doesn't need to be – overhead, lightbulbs hang symbolically, and on the stage floor are mind-maps of Brightlight's research findings, situating what we see onstage within a wider context. Everything in between is conjured by the performers, in ever-changing groupings. Some give intensely personal testimonies supported by pictures of sentimental items, hospital bed photos, or meaningful tattoos. One or two actors seem genuinely emotional as they tell their own stories or, poignantly, compose an endless list of what they miss about lost loved ones. There's something to touch each of the watching audience here, and some urgent messages too about young people's need for tailored care, wherever in the country they are.

Adura Onashile's skilful direction ensures that the whole production feels classy, yet still gloriously real and life-affirming. It's never crass but definitely hilarious in places, and packs an emotional punch without ever becoming a weepie like My Sister's Keeper or The Fault in Our Stars (which both come up as punchlines). There is a Light is an engaging experience from start to finish and a masterful testimony to the power of young people's voices.


Reviewer: Lizz Clark


Comment by Georgina Wells

I agree with Lizz that this production nails the fine comedy/tragedy balance - it never becomes sentimental and its humour is quite dark at times. Its performers really own the material and their commitment to it is extremely impressive.

On the other hand, the whole piece lacks a bit of structure and feels a little too episodic at times.