‘Hello, Brightline: You’re through to someone you can talk to’ is the cheery greeting for callers to the office where the walls are covered in platitude posters: Together Everyone Achieves More preached one. Frances, the Team Leader, believes in every pointless phrase pinned up and continually ‘motivates’ her team of three with fake praise and ‘inspirational’ guidance, but the thin veneer of smiles at Brightline hides depths of darkness, writes Michael Holland.
In Sam Steiner’s You Stupid Darkness, Joey is the kid straight from school doing work experience, with a lot to learn. Angie is the excitable girl who takes pleasure in the simpler things in life, like watching tissues being pulled from a box. Jon, the cynical one, guzzles instant coffee granules straight from the jar for a caffeine hit, is tired of his job, his life and the world in general.
And the world outside the office is in disaster mode. It seems that all the fires and floods, and general climate change catastrophes, plus Trump and a Britain broken by Brexit, have all been cast as one phenomena in this play – The Apocalypse. The staff arrive through gales and storms wearing gas masks to keep out disease and toxic fumes, then set about telling callers that everything is going to be okay. They attempt to inspire hope in the minds of others as they try to survive in a world with none.
Slowly, gradually, the end of days scenario outside creeps inside. The funders are closing down offices, the old kettle blows all the electrics; the winds blow in a window and tears all the posters down; rainstorms find a way through to flood the office. And as life worsens outside so we hear more and more of the lives of the staff. Oh yes, they sell hope over the phone when at work, but their realities are not so hopeful; two in relationships are not happy; one lives with their sick dog and the other lives with their sick mum in a flat above the estranged father. One is having twins and none of them understand why she would do that.
Yes, there are many moments of light relief, but this merely highlights the hopelessness and disintegration of society. In the end, the Brightline team realise they just have themselves.
The multi-conversations often cancel each other out and become confusing, but Steiner has written a great play here, which doesn’t register straightaway. You Stupid Darkness creeps up on you. After a while you start to think about the planet’s future, getting old and how many people are actually there for you, and for some it will be just a handful of friends who will sit round a table in the dark telling you that everything is going to be okay.
Great performances from all, though I particularly enjoyed Lydia Larson’s Angie, and Andy Rush as Jon.
You Stupid Darkness! is on at the Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD until 22nd February. Times: 7.30pm Mondays – Saturdays; 2.30pm Tuesday and Saturday Matinees.
Admission: £14 – £22. Phone: 020 7407 0234
Photos: Ali Wright