It’s hard not to love a play named after a Peanuts quote – not least one by the irrepressible Lucy. As the play ends in candlelight, one character’s lunchbox reveals a Schultz cartoon strip where Linus is quoting the old saying “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” Cut to Lucy in the next box shouting to the sky “You stupid darkness!”.
It’s that dark, sentimental humour that is laced throughout the play. Set in a Samaritans-style call centre at the heart of an unexplained apocalypse the contrasts of light and darkness are often sharply delineated. While the characters arrive to work in gas masks, the electricity fails and the place slowly floods, the calls they deal with are the everyday mundanity of loneliness. Life goes on and it’s just as awful as ever.
The call centre workers each bring their own problems to work. From 17-year-old Joey (Andrew Finnegan) escaping from school life to kooky Angie – who can’t stop talking to callers about her own life. Heavily pregnant Frances (Jenni Maitland) – whose home life seems as unsettled as the heavy weather they exist in and charismatic Jon (Andy Rush), the rebel of the group are the heart of the play. Through their eyes, we see both the absurdity of carrying on as normal as well as how emotionally essential it is both for the callers and those staffing the hotline.
The play is accompanied by a soundtrack that could have been ripped straight from my Spotify. From Leonard Cohen to James Taylor, the songs were just the kind of maudlin I adore. And the radio provides an interesting accompaniment to the action. Though after the third song about death, I did wonder if they were, in fact, in purgatory rather than living through a dead world. If so, this was only implicit. It seems we have made our own purgatory. As someone about to spent two weeks in a country currently on fire – I can buy that.
The first half of the play is slightly too long. It makes it’s point well, but reiterates it too often and meanders a little too much. The second half though is much tighter. The emotions are unleashed but not mawkish.
You Stupid Darkness is an emotionally intelligent examination of what it means to just carry on. Not regardless, not bravely, not with hope or vim or vigour. Just to carry on. Because what else can you do? It is a moving piece that never shies away from also laughing at the ridiculousness of the life it’s characters are living. It has the kind of black humour that anyone who has either worked in a call centre or done volunteer work will recognise instantly.
This is a timely play – though it also feels timeless. The emotions it evokes are universal even as it speaks to a late sense of Millennial doom that many are feeling. Writer Sam Steiner has delivered an emotional parable for those of us whose hearts are bruised but who choose either to light a candle or to curse the stupid darkness. Both options are valid.