Theatre Review: Living with the Lights On @ Tobacco Factory Theatres
by Abi Hack
Raw, intense and unapologetically exposed: Living with the Lights On is an emotional glimpse into the troubled mind of a manic depressant. Mark Lockyer’s one-man endeavour to tell his side of the story is not to be viewed as a traditional “acted out” performance, but instead a man simply telling a group of people a series of personal stories about his past.
As the audience walk into the theatre Mark Lockyer himself greets us. He takes our tickets, directs us to our seats, offers us tea and coffee and generally engages with us on a level entirely different to the traditional actor/audience interaction. This is the beginning of what leads to be an incredibly individual performance.
The set is basic and uncovered, with the back curtain drawn open to reveal lighting rigs, ladders and general theatre equipment, which is typically considered “behind the scenes”.
It feels like we’ve stumbled into a half set up stage that isn’t quite ready for the theatregoers to see yet.
As the play begins, we begin to understand that the set cleverly reflects the general concept of the performance: total exposure and brutal honesty. Mark does not want to trick the audience with clever lighting and music choices that encourages us to feel a certain way, but instead leave it as a blank canvas for us to come up with our own conclusions.
As a result, it feels wrong to call this piece of theatre a “play” or “show” as that suggests that it is in someway produced or acted out, the reality being quite the contrary. To an extent this piece will of course have undergone a series of edits and tweaks throughout a rehearsal process, but it is the organic unscripted moments that make this piece so intriguing. It is a performance of the moment. Throughout the performance we saw Mark continuously break the forth wall and engage with his audience as he asked a gentleman, “sir are you comfortable up there or would you like to move to a different seat so that the post isn’t blocking you?” and to the arrival of a latecomer, “let me just catch you up on the show so far”. Mark does not only break the fourth wall but shatters it into a million pieces and brushes the fragments to the side of the stage as if nothing has happened. Although this production is in some ways “enacted”, such as when Mark scampers and sweats across the stage reproducing farcical characterisations of his mother, ex-lovers and bosses, it is safe to say I have never experienced anything quite so organic.
Interestingly, the term ‘manic depression’ is not explicitly used until the end of Mark’s story, but instead abbreviated to ‘MD’ and personified in the form of an American male who Lockyer understands to be his ‘musical director’. As a result, we the audience are given no reason to question it, and it is not until the end of the play that the true meaning of ‘MD’ is revealed and we gain a deeper understanding of Mark and the reasoning behind his erratic actions.
This production is a disjointed autobiography that fluctuates between lighthearted humour and impenetrable discomfort. It is an exploration of human nature that seeks to expose a small avenue of mental health: manic depression.
Runs until 22 September 2017
Image: Simon Annand