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Review: When the light leaves at La Mama Courthouse

By Anja Bless

When the light leaves is a beautiful and moving piece of Australian theatre by playwright Rory Godbold that explores life, death, and voluntary assisted dying.

Currently showing at La Mama Courthouse in Carlton, When the light leaves explores the time leading up to the death of Dan, played by Tomas Parrish, and the pain, trauma and love he experiences.

Parrish puts on an exceptional performance, capturing the ‘disintegration’ of Dan’s body as his brain tumour takes control, then seamlessly switching to Dan pre-illness; laughing, loving, happy and also lost. Parrish tackles the challenging content of the play with grace and complete devotion to each scene.

Veronica Thomas, who plays Dan’s sister Kate, should also be commended for her performance. A high-flying and career-driven woman, Kate must confront the loss of her last family member and remain on as carer for her mother who is the in late stages of dementia. Thomas shows Kate’s turmoil beautifully, bringing tears to the eyes of audience members in her closing monologue. The scenes between her and Dan are particularly poignant, capturing the tumultuous relationships of siblings with a swinging pendulum light bulb that they pass between them.

This hanging light is a centrepiece of the staging and is used extremely effectively throughout. However, the other hanging props did little to add value to the performances, instead sometimes having the less than desired effect of being a distraction.

The staging itself is simple and used well to transition from scene-to-scene, from the abstract to the real and from pre and post diagnosis. The lighting design aids this also, however the sound design was often uncomfortably grating, and not in a way that added any great effect.

The performances by fellow cast members Leigh Scully as Dan’s partner Liam, and Michelle Robertson as Alice, his nurse, complemented Parrish and Thomas well. Scully took some time to warm into the role and as such his performance seemed less convincing in contrast to Parrish. Robertson’s character was the least realistic and well-rounded, though this may have been more to do with the script than Robertson’s performance.

Director Jayde Kirchert should be commended for bringing such dynamism to a heavy and emotional topic. The show is well balanced, providing audience with relief in small moments of quick humour between Dan and Alice, or those of a blossoming love between Dan and Liam. It captures well the dichotomy of terminal illness, the good times shining through the most awful. The play tackles with respect and also with honesty the realities of voluntary assisted dying in Australia; the desperation of Dan, the sadness and resistance from his sister and partner, the helplessness of his care staff.

Time seems to stand still in When the light leaves, as we stay trapped with Dan in the limbo between life and death. Far from morbid, this is a thought provoking and captivating piece of theatre.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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