Theatre Review: When The Light Leaves

Image: La Mama

Image: La Mama

What do you do when you’re faced with the end?

Are you alone when the light finally goes out?

When the time comes, who can you really trust?

When Dan (Tomas Parrish), a man in his early 30s, discovers he has terminal stage four terminal brain cancer, these are the questions he must face. While his body functions begin to decay, he’s caught in a tug of war between his boyfriend Liam (Leigh Scully), his sister and his nurse (Veronica Thomas and Michelle Robertson). They all want a say in what he needs, but won’t help him with what he really wants - to end his pain on his terms.

Directed by Jayde Kirchert, the 70-minute production is a dynamic and visceral affair, with nuanced and physically demanding performances from its cast. Parrish lead slips easily and suddenly from red-faced frustration and anger to a drunken camaraderie, made possible by a flashback-style narrative.

When the Light Leaves is one of those gems of theatre that have the capacity to really affect you.

It possesses the kind of intimacy that La Mama has made its name for: a small crowd, a small stage, every whisper heard at the back of the room. It lends a heightened intensity that makes it hard to keep a dry eye, especially if the material hits a personal note.

For productions such as these, this intimacy is essential; it is its lifeblood.

And be warned: it’s not a light topic.

And be warned: it’s not a light topic. When the lights came on after the opening, there were a few misty eyes, and not of the nostalgic variety. For what is brutal material, is constructed by writer Rory Godbold with surprising sensitivity and understanding.

Despite a few technical hiccups, the production design was beautiful and effective – a swinging lamp becomes a centrepiece, like the pendulum of a clock, signals and intertwines the memories and moments of Dan’s life. The sound effect during the nightmare opening scene is so distracting it wasn’t clear if it was even meant to be there, but for the remainder it was more restrained and used to better effect.

When the Light Leaves weaves together hope, love, and suffering, in a confronting tapestry that asks the viewer to consider what we are actually talking about when we talk about giving terminally ill people a choice at the end of their lives.

When the Light Leaves is showing at La Mama Courthouse until 23 June. Tickets available here.