Bright Black ****

Bright Black asks much of its audience.  It isn’t an easy production to watch, even if it has much to be in awe over, but it is still a very satisfying experience. 

The play is a three-hander.  Claire’s partner has died unexpectedly, and she has shut herself inside her empty flat, completely overcome by grief.  Her friend Fay stands outside, doing the best she can to get through to her.  However, Claire’s grief has physically manifested itself into the form of a demon-like creature that taunts her with memories and false promises.

With a running time of under an hour, the production covers a lot of ground, both in plot and emotion.  It manages to do so with staging techniques that are filled with sheer imaginative brilliance.  As great as all three actors are, the true heroes of this are the design and technical team, too great in number to list but each deserving a standing ovation of their own.  It is a production that, to the untrained eye, looks simple but is in fact so complicated that it is easy to bypass the story and just marvel in the way each staging point is executed.

This is not to take away from the cast, each of whom plays a convincing character well.  Jenny Hulse has the difficult job of being the outsider for most of the time, a character forced to stand powerless on the sidelines.  Meline Danielewicz’s Claire is constantly engaging with her heartbreak.  The play pretty much hinges on whether you believe in the power of her grief, and you most certainly will.

However, in many ways the most difficult role falls to Martin McCormick.  As Cerberus, McCormick must jump, climb and clamour about, contort himself, disappear and reappear fluidly and vocalise sections in a wheezy voice.  It is a very difficult task that he is more than game for, and it makes his confrontations with Claire all the more powerful.

In many ways, the play greatly affected me in two ways.  On an intellectually plane, I actually wanted more.  That isn’t to say that what is offered isn’t rich; it is.  But, perhaps like the child who after a 30 minute fireworks display still wants the bangs and booms to continue, I felt that more could have been done, both with the characters and with the staging techniques.

And yet, on an emotional level, the play carried great resonance.  Even with a short running time, the production had not only moved me but took me on an emotional rollercoaster.  I not only felt completely satisfied with everything that happened but found feelings and emotions from the production still stirring inside for hours on end.

Even now, Bright Black still haunts me.  It is theatre at its most potent, perhaps even at its most simple, and succeeds on every level.  And in the end, perhaps it’s an even greater strength that it makes one want more rather than overstaying its welcome or in overindulging its design concepts.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Touring Scotland until the end of October.

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