Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff

Tue 19 Apr


Never make a brief glance. Never utter a passing word. This is the message delivered in Light Arrested Between the Curtain and the Glass‘s opening monologue, presented as a sermon. It is easy to let these instructions wash over you, yet the need for meaningful interactions becomes a thematic catalyst as a vicar’s dutiful visits to a couple unearth a tapestry of longing and loss.

And it comes as no surprise that words play such a key part in this work. Brad Birch’s Light Arrested Between the Curtain and the Glass is the latest production from Sherman Cymru’s RAW programme, a scheme which Associate Director Amy Hodge describes as ‘no frills theatre [where] the writing itself will be the main event.’ If quality scriptwriting was the aim, then theatre has never been more accomplished.

In a claustrophobic and sparsely furnished domestic setting, we witness the stagnant interactions of farmer Edwin and his wife Mair, a woman who ‘looks’ and ‘supposes’ but never experiences. Mair’s world is one controlled by Edwin, and this is powerfully illustrated on stage as the husband tweaks the closed curtains and worries that ‘the sun was out there peeking in.’ Edwin is a man keen to keep light and enlightenment firmly at bay; Controller and commenter, he is the God of his self-crafted world. Mair’s opinions of society, then, are those her husband has fed back to her, the light he decides to let in.

And into this controlled and moribund setting enters our vicar, keen to reintegrate the couple into his parish. But as the well-meaning intruder makes his presence known, sinister cracks appear. With a tangled murder at its heart, this script reveals the complexities in the battleground between good and evil where the worth of human life is fiercely scrutinised. As Birch’s plot becomes increasingly complicated and his characters ever more nuanced, the only thing that is certain is that nothing is black and white. For every observation that play seems to encourage, there seem to be simultaneous undercurrents which tease us with the opposite. Everything can be re-read, analysed, judged and contradicted.

So as we think back to the opening few lines, we know with some certainty that this play practises what it preaches. With each sentence rich in meaning and each interaction begging to be decoded, Birch has delivered a work which is nearly impossible to contain and classify. Is this parable of a son whose death represents a greater good an allusion to Jesus? Possibly. Is it an unblushing interrogation of the value of life? Perhaps. What we know for certain is that Light Arrested Between the Curtain and the Glass is an exquisitely powerful play which teases us with a thousand possible readings, yet leaves the specifics of what is taken away firmly up to us.

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