The Lightning Play – December 2006

Experience: 8/10

By Charlotte Jones

Directed by Anna Mackmin

Venue: Almeida Theatre

Date: Saturday 16th December 2006

I was hooked almost immediately by this play. It starts with Max (Matthew Marsh) entering a plush modern minimalist room with lots of remote controls in his hands. He puts them down, and then tries to find out which one will switch on his brand new 65” TV. Naturally, he can’t do it. The bloody thing refuses to work, despite his best efforts, and with much complaining and swearing on his part. It doesn’t sound like much written down, but for folk like us with five or six remote controls beside us on the sofa, it was hilarious.

The set was one of the biggest I’ve seen at the Almeida. It was one room, wide and spacious, with a few tables and a sideboard at the walls either side. A sofa and two recliner chairs faced each other across the middle of the room, a massive rug (false perspective) lay on the floor, and a huge TV screen hung on the back wall, with the necessary machines underneath. Behind the screen we could see a wood-effect recess, and on either side of the screen were the doors. Simple and very effective.

Max is a ghost writer, who produces “autobiographies” for D-list celebs. His wife, Harriet (Eleanor David), seems to spend her time shopping with his money and making their home a palace of beauty. His childhood friend Eddie (Lloyd Hutchinson) mooches about, apparently always at their house, helping Max research by watching videos and drinking beer with him.

Max has been induced to invite Imogen (Katherine Parkinson), an old school friend of their travelling daughter, round for drinks. She’s heavily pregnant, just about ready to drop, and her husband Marcus Cumberbatch (Orlando Seale) comes along too. Eddie brings along a new girlfriend, Jacklyn (Adie Allen), who picked him up that day during a ramble. She’s the nervous New Age sort. We also see, in flashback, Burak (Simon Kassianides), the man who sold Harriet the rug (after they had sex on it), and Tabby Morris (Christina Cole), the 20-something glamour model whose autobiography Max is hoping to write.

It’s Halloween as well, and there are lots of strange things going on. We keep hearing about Max and Harriet’s daughter, Anna, who’s inIsraelprotesting human rights abuses by standing in front of tanks and the like. It’s pretty obvious there’s some reason why she’s both avoiding her parents and fighting for others, and we find this out by the end of the play. It’s because of Anna that Imogen invited herself round – she’s had an email from her, and wanted to tell her parents about it. Imogen had been round at their place a lot during her schooldays, a bit like Eddie now, although neither Max nor Harriet really cared for her.

The other strange occurrence is the pictures that keep coming up on the massive screen – it’s not TV programs, it’s like a family video, showing a young girl, maybe 10 years old, running through a wood, and clambering through trees. She looks scared, mostly, and we naturally assume this is Anna when she was younger. The pictures and sounds affect Max terribly – in fact, he’s the only one seeing them. They crop up every time the doorbell rings – kids trick or treating. When everyone’s there, we find out what all the connections are, who rescued who from a suicide attempt, and what really happened in the forest so many years ago. It wasn’t so much a twist, as uncovering something hidden, not mentioned or referenced at all during the play, as far as I could tell. The play ends with Harriet going off to see Anna in Israel, and Max and Eddie settling down to watch videos and drink beer, while the set opens up to reveal the real significance of the wooden recess.

This was a really well-crafted play. The characters were believable and mostly irritating – you wouldn’t want to spend time with them. The humour was excellent. While complaining to Eddie about the recalcitrance of the incredibly expensive TV, Max comments “This thing should be on its knees, tugging at my zip.” The performances were all brilliant – we really get to know these people and what makes them tick. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and would happily see this again.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

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