Oct 122010

This article by Andy contains a brief review of Enlightenment at the Hampstead Theatre.

We’re always on the look out for new plays and venues for visitors here on London breaks to add to the possibilities for an extra evening out at the theatre, and it doesn’t always have to be in the West End by any means. There are theatre pubs, fringe theatres, off-west-end theatres and regional theatres all within the M25, many within central London itself. The play that was brought to our notice is called “Enlightenment” written by Shelagh Stephenson and directed by Edward Hall, Hampstead Theatre’s new Artistic Director.

So Monday night took us to see the venue for the first time, right next to the Swiss Cottage roundabout and tube station. Arriving inside Hampstead Theatre felt more like visiting a leading performing arts centre for one of the major UK cities, like Canterbury or St Andrews, or Exeter. Not knowing anything much about ‘Enlightenment’ beforehand, I was able to deliberately keep an unprepared mind for the unfolding emotional drama as the plot weaved its way through the minefields of improbability. There was a small scientific thread in there somewhere, citing a theory akin to or possibly preceding chaos theory which needs further investigation but the big story was a classic human tragedy investigating the nature of identity and touching themes designed to disturb the audience’s sensibilities particularly poignant to parents. As a father myself, I feel particularly well placed to understand the two main characters anguish at not knowing the fate of their missing son.


The Hampstead Theatre is an impressive modern theatre venue, small enough to be intimate and with perfect acoustics and yet large enough to stage quality serious theatre productions, drawing in audiences from all over the capital, with excellent transport links on the fast Jubilee line and all the central connections just a few stops away, so this would be a sensible logistical addition to any London Breaks package.

Enlightenment is a traditionally constructed play in two acts with a beginning, middle and end, realistic characters, a straightforward time line and just about believable events. There are moments where the sanity of everybody is questioned, but that is a reasonable thing for a play to do. The staging is impressively modern and effective with good use of additional sound and video, back projection and slick scene changes with transparent rising and falling furniture. Maybe it was just me but upstairs and downstairs became strangely confused, or was it deliberate? Nothing is quite as it seems with this play which has been running since September, so the acting should be well bedded in by now. There were times when I though the playscript was possibly a class above the performance, but in the second act I dropped that misgiving, particularly with all three female characters who worked well together, and the addition of a sixth character in the second act pulls the whole play together and leaves you on the edge.

Daisy Beaumont
Richard Clothier
Paul Freeman
Julie Graham
Polly Kemp
Tom Weston-Jones

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