Review: How My Light Is Spent @ Sherman Theatre

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It is in life’s most challenging situations that we begin to question our identity and sense of self. When Jimmy’s luck is out, he quite literally begins to lose himself.

Written by Alan Harris, How My Light is Spent follows the story of Jimmy (Rhodri Meilir), a thirty six year old working in Newport’s only doughnut drive through and still living with his mum, and Kitty (Alexandria Riley) an ambitious, altruistic phone sex worker. Jimmy spends every Wednesday evening on the phone to Kitty for precisely nine minutes at the cost of £1.20 a minute. Although he’s ‘done’ in three minutes, they spend the remaining time chatting and getting to know one another’s dreams and aspirations. Between juggling the loss of his bottom-rung job, carrying the guilt of not seeing his daughter in over four years, and still living at home with his mum, Jimmy’s body parts slowly begin to disappear as he tries to claw back control of his life, establish an identity and find his place in society.

The play explores themes of loneliness, the emotional effects of unemployment, and the search for meaning and identity. Harris expertly uses Jimmy’s disappearing body parts as a metaphor to portray the emotional and psychological effects of his dire situation. How My Light is Spent challenges the societal perceptions of the unemployed and sex workers, who are so often vilified in Britain today, by giving these two characters substance, meaning and a funny and hopeful story.

Meilir and Riley play all male and female roles of the play respectively and flit seamlessly between characters and narration. With superb satirical characterisation, there was never any confusion over what role was being enacted at any given point – a clear sign of the expert directorial guidance of Liz Stevenson. Both Meilir and Riley were phenomenal; they displayed infectious enthusiasm and the chemistry between them was clear. As they tactfully interrupt one another during narration, the plot develops at a fairly quick pace, leaving the audience gripped.

Set in the Sherman’s Studio, the stage was a raised paved platform with the audience placed either side. Such simple staging ensured complete focus was on Jimmy and Kitty. Special mention must go to Joshua Pharo, the Lighting Designer, as the lighting was a particular highlight for me. Again, very subtle, but wonderfully effective – it was essential in setting the scene and helping the plot to develop.

The Sherman Theatre’s ethos is to “make work with local relevance and international impact” – this is certainly true of How My Light Is Spent as it’s a hopeful celebration of the unremarkable. The audience is thrust into what is usually a very intimate and private experience during the phone sex calls and we’re given an insight into the effects of unemployment and a search for identity – something that is experienced all over the world. Add in some Newport-like over-pronunciation and relatable characters and the play becomes hyper-localised, yet still a relatable global concept.

How My Light Is Spent is a funny, relevant, and often utterly mad, production which has been expertly written, directed and performed.

How My Light Is Spent is at the Sherman Theatre until May 27th.  Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.shermantheatre.co.uk/performance/theatre/how-my-light-is-spent/

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