Enlightenment: A Review

The psychological thriller Enlightenment marks the start of Edward Hall’s first season as artistic director at the Hampstead Theatre.

When a boy goes missing during a round-the-world trip, it leaves his mother and step-father in a hell-ish limbo, at times full of hope that their son will return to them unscathed, at others fearing the grizzly worst.

Not dissimilar to how I felt watching this play. At times I was happily swept along by the plot’s dark twists and turns, pleased that the play appeared to be going somewhere. But at others, my heart sank as the actors tried to make the best of the bumbling dialogue, and we had to endure yet another clumsy passage on middle-class guilt or materialism or non-locality.

The acting, on the whole, was excellent, with particularly strong performances by Julie Graham as Lia and Richard Clothier as Nick, mother and step-father respectively of the missing boy. The staging too is fantastic, with a brilliant all-white set that becomes more and more barren as we delve deeper and darker into the family’s grief. In fact, the only thing that lets this play down, really, is Shelagh Stephenson’s script. Unfortunately, it seems that’s quite a key component in this whole theatre lark.

The play successfully explores the vulnerability which comes as a result of  grief, in this case Lia’s, and the way that others seek to exploit this. But there’s too much non-plot and filler, which slows the play right down and, as a result, subtlety is sacrificed. I can’t help but recall a line from Nick: “We keep coming back to everything – it’s Hell.”

There are moments when you are all too aware that you are watching a play, but the tension that builds up in the second act makes for some superbly uncomfortable viewing – it is a thriller after all.

There are far worse ways to spend an evening, but there are also better ways to spend your cash.

Enlightenment runs at the Hampstead Theatre until 30 October 2010. To buy tickets, click here.

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