Review: Enlightenment

Recently appointed Artistic Director Edward Hall marks his first production at the Hampstead Theatre with the UK premiere of Shelagh Stephenson’s modern mystery, Enlightenment.  A play about the lengths to which people will go to find the missing pieces of their lives, Enlightenment tells the story of a young man who disappears whilst backpacking in South East Asia.  Six months on, his parents Lia (Julie Graham) and Nick (Richard Clothier) are suffering through an endless cycle of emotional turmoil.  As desperation hits mother Lia, she begins to seek new approaches to finding out what happened, leading her to enlist the help of medium Joyce (Polly Kemp) and later to allow manipulating television producer Joanna (Daisy Beaumont) into their lives.

The first act is heavy on melodrama only ‘enlightened’ by precious moments of humour provided mainly by grandfather Gordon (Paul Freeman).  At this point the writing gives little room for the characters to express any naturalistic emotion and is too heavily cryptic.  The second act adds intrigue as the family take in a mysterious Adam look-a-like (Tom Weston-Jones) who, suffering from memory-loss, was believed to be their son.  The family find themselves caught up in a net of lies and deceit as the cancerous Adam infects their lives.  There are many realistic questions of why indeed this confused young man would have become their responsibility that, had the handling of the story been stronger, could have been forgiven.  However, the melodrama continued to glare through and frustration brewed, as despite the best efforts of a strong cast, the story remained awkward and ended leaving a dissatisfying incomplete feeling.

Francis O’Connor’s stark-while ultra-modern design was powerful and inspired and Andrzej Goulding’s projections were impressive at times but neither added to the play itself and left Hall little scope for imaginative direction.  The story has potential that sadly is not reached in Stephenson’s writing or its current incarnation.  A disappointing start to Hall’s rein as Artistic Director, Enlightenment is a modern mystery that remains a mystery to us all.

Enlightenment runs at the Hampstead Theatre until Saturday 30 October 2010.

Copyright © theatreJunki 2010.

One Response to “Review: Enlightenment”
  1. andyroberts says:

    I seemed to have found the play more thought provoking than the majority of critics. See the list of more reviews of Enlightenment at the bottom of the wiki page:

    Know any more?

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