Chilling and explosive play helps Mayor's fundBy Caroline Cook
January 19, 2011
Spooky goings-on with a plasma telly forms the backdrop for Wokingham Theatre’s latest show. Caroline Cook reports from behind the sofa
As the curtain falls and an erratic black and white silent film begins to twitch in the darkness two young children run across the screen, their laughter unheard as they play in the woods.
It sounds like something out of a horror film, and although production manager Peter Stallwood likens it to notorious spooky flick The Blair Witch Project, he says Wokingham Theatre’s latest offering is also deeply funny and punctuated with witty lines.
An unusual combination, but then again, The Lightning Play is an unusual piece of work.
First performed in 2006 and written by critically acclaimed playwright, Charlotte Jones, the play is a glimpse into modern life, complete with its scandals and secrets.
“You can see the problem because it’s not a comedy – although it is quite amusing and the dialogue is quite witty,” Peter says, giving an insight into the complexities behind the script.
“Then again one could even make a case that it’s a tragedy.”
Set on Hallowe’en in picturesque Hampstead, the play tells the tale of celebrity autobiographer Max Villiers and his “talented shopper” wife Harriet who are hosting a drinks party, where shocks and scandals are poured out along with the wine.
As Max struggles to get his new plasma television to work it jerks into action showing home movies of his children which, in keeping with All Hallows’ Eve, only he and the audience can see.
“There’s a spookiness about it,” says Peter, his voice taking on a hushed tone.
“That’s very much part of the play. Max has a plasma screen but he cannot get it to work and it keeps flicking on.
“It’s a bit like The Blair Witch Project film with these shaky handheld black and white images of children playing.
“That was part of the challenge of [staging this play] because we had to create this little film. We got a couple of local children to help out.
“Max doesn’t know what’s going on – and you don’t find out either until the end.”
The guests at the dinner party also offer a generous cocktail of dysfunctional relationships and even touch upon controversial issues, which make the play more suited to an adult audience.
Peter explains: “It is a very modern play and Wokingham Theatre likes to tick all the boxes.
“We’ve just done a fairly silly Christmas play and we did Amadeus so now this is about as up-to-date as you can get.
“This play is more adult in the subjects it touches on but it doesn’t make a big thing about the controversial topics, it’s more just a suggestion.”
The play also exposes the grittiness of modern life, with a touch of humour, as jokes are made about the trick or treaters, constantly ringing the doorbell in search of “lattes and heroin” rather than candy.
As I ask Peter whether there is an explosive ending to the play he says explosive is a very good word.
“There is something of an explosion at the end,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye.
“But you will have to come along and see it to find out why for yourself.”
And it looks as if the opening night may be the night to go as Wokingham Theatre is putting on a charity performance of the play in aid of the Wokingham Borough Mayor’s Charity, Berkshire Give a Child a Chance.
All proceeds from the Wednesday performance will be given to the charity and Wokingham Borough Mayor Cllr Dianne King is delighted at the support of the theatre.
“What better way is there to chase away the post Christmas blues than a night out at the theatre with friends?” she says.
“I would like to extend an invitation to the whole community as it really is a wonderful play.
“I am especially pleased that a night out can also raise money for our Wokingham Borough children.”
- The Charity performance will take place today, at 7.45pm. Tickets are £10 and can be bought by contacting Ann-Marie Bonwick on (0118) 974 6004 or emailing Annmarie.bonnwick@ wokingham.gov.uk.
The play will then run at the theatre until Saturday, January 29, and tickets for all performances in the normal run have sold out. Returns may be available.
For details, call the box office on (0118) 978 5363.