When trying to describe Shades of Dark and Light to those who asked, the best analogy I could conjure was that of the petits-fours you find in Starbucks: they look enticing, but the portions are far too small. Shades of Dark and Light, a production of the local group Almost Random Theatre, comprises ten short plays. Some, like Letter to an MP (no points for guessing the content) and Where Fairies Haunt were monologues, but most were small cast affairs, and the genres were pretty mixed – many, to the writers’ credit, deftly spinning comedy into thrillers.
Unfortunately, this melange betrayed the lack of direction and focus the plays sorely needed. Take, for instance, Le Type DeBrouillard. This was drawn out, and it rested far too heavily on its ending. The best remedy for this would be to cut about five minutes from the middl -. I never expected to have to say that a character was overdeveloped, but that’s a symptom of the problem here. The ending, though, was clever. Like many of these plays the germ of inspiration was readily apparent, there was a cunning and wit evidently driving the creation of the art, but the execution was imperfect. Consider also Would That it Were – this was an entertaining satire of some upper-class nitwits at Oxford, in a fictional yet not unattractive future where Stephen Fry has served the office of Prime Minister with aplomb, and (to try not to ruin the ending) Oxford University isn’t quite what it is today. That central idea was fantastic and humorous, but getting there wasn’t easy. Not quite enough was made of it. The Intricate Workings of a Sherbet Lemon likewise suffers from an implementation failure, though as probably the best play of the compilation does not have the problem as acutely.
The common thread here is that Shades of Dark and Light felt like sifting through a literary agent’s submissions, or attending an early preview of plays in development. In each there was a kernel of genius, and I do not doubt that most of them (especially the ones I have mentioned above, precisely because they were so promising and therein lay the tragedy) could be expanded into excellent plays. But two hours of drafts? A better approach might be to make this a regular, shorter affair, inviting feedback from the audience and a pleasant drink afterwards with the cast. And speaking of which, here is where my hope lies – they were simply fabulous. This praise is not idle compensation. I would like to single out Lixi Chivas for leaving a lasting impression: every one of her performances was compelling and striking, even in Letter to an MP where the source material left me asking whether I had missed the point of the piece (maybe I don’t hate MPs very much). In sum, Shades of Dark and Light isn’t great. But it definitely could be.