Here in Britain we're often accused of living in the past. This week it's true - specifically 1978, our winter of discontent. There have been unexpected snowfalls, London's public transport ground to a halt, post went undelivered and trash uncollected. And last night the power failed, so we sat around with candles and red wine - free from the laptop at last.
Dim light and shadows have not only their consolations but their beauty. I'd been thinking about this since seeing Shun-kin, the latest show by Complicite. It isn't a huge advance by director Simon McBurney, who marries a physical style of theatre to bogglingly sophisticated ideas about the way in which our minds construct the world. Shun-kin is interested in the way our senses apprehend our surroundings, and offers a beautiful evening in the theatre that reminds us of the power of shadows. A collaboration with Tokyo's Setagaya Public Theatre, it is based on two 1933 texts by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. One is a poetic fan letter to darkness, In Praise of Shadows; the other a pervy, postmodern fake biography about a blind musician and her devoted manservant.
Throughout Shun-kin, light is curtailed, tightly focused, its levels often low. It's a risky strategy in a big auditorium, but it focuses attention wonderfully. Drawn to the glimmers, we hover there: as a capricious puppet rages for attention, or as a voice-over artist surreptitiously peers at a message from her lover on the mobile, lit only by a small desk light. Shadowy emotions, sharpened senses, flourish in the strictly rationed lamplight.
I don't want to sound like a sheep, but I like my attention being manipulated in this way at the theatre. Good lighting is poetic but also acts like a nudge - look here, closer, longer. Lighting design is an under-praised art - always the first credit to be cut when a reviewer starts running out of words. But Paul Anderson's work on Shun-kin deserves a shout, and already this year I've seen a couple of wonderfully evocative designs by Neil Austin: a disorienting misty coastscape in Mrs Affleck, where Ibsen goes to England, and a hard, sharp design for Piaf, light glinting from the coal-hard walls.
Lighting has a major part to play in dance, of course, where the stage has often to be kept clear. Designers like Lucy Carter (who works with ubergeek Wayne McGregor) and Michael Hulls (Russell Maliphant's longtime collaborator) do marvels with architecture, space and texture, providing a spatial and emotional journey through a piece. And it's this invitation to look, and to look again, that is so compelling.
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