Friday, 27 January 2017

New play at Theatre 503: Years of Sunlight by Michael McLean

For readers in London, I have just seen a preview performance of Michael McLean's new play Years of Sunlight at Theatre 503 and can recommend it highly. Previews continue until Saturday night and the play starts on Tuesday. You can book at the theatre's website here.

I first became aware of McLean's work with The Ducks, a two-hander which was, for me, a highlight of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe. That mantra invoked in the previous post, "Complexity not complication", also applies to that piece, which explores the strange relationship which develops between two young men on community service.

So I was waiting eagerly for Years of Sunlight, and it didn't disappoint. It tells a different sort of story but one recognisably cut from the same cloth: not plot-heavy, and scenes which are snapshots illuminating the whole. After Paul's childhood friend Emlyn has died we trace their friendship, and the role which Paul's mother continued to play in the troubled Emlyn's life long after Paul had left home. Successive scenes propel us further into the past, helping to explain the adult characters' behaviour, although the play avoids easy answers. The adult Paul's life appears, outwardly, to be more sorted than that of his friend, but is he just in a different sort of mess? And when Emlyn is offered a chance to develop a talent there are deeply affecting fragmentary speeches, striving to explain his work, which offer hints of the man we now know he will never become. The play's dialogue is its great strength, moving in an unforced way from inarticulacy to a kind of unstrained poeticism in a heartbeat, without ever falling into the trap of Fine Writing.

The backdrop to the characters' struggles is the mass move of people from Liverpool to Skelmersdale, a new town in Lancashire (for Scottish readers, think Cumbernauld). In between scenes we are shown clips from a contemporary documentary extolling the promise of that move, increasingly at odds with what we have come to know of the characters' experience.

In writing the above, however, I'm aware that it doesn't really describe the play adequately. Trouble is, there's no convoluted plot to recount, nothing cute or gimmicky about the enterprise. No convenient way, in fact, of selling it to the reader other than to say something like this: that the way the characters interact, in particular the mix of love and callousness in the quasi-fraternal relationship between the two men, feels totally convincing and is, at times, heartbreaking.

So see it if you can. It runs at Theatre 503 until February 18th, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.45pm.

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