Sarah Frankcom bids farewell to the Royal Exchange with this atmospheric production of Simon Stephens’ Light Falls
“There’s a million things in store for you just beyond the horizon, but please, stay in sight of the mainland”
Sarah Frankcom’s association with the Royal Exchange goes back more than 20 years, so her departure as Artistic Director will undoubtedly be seismic in some ways. And if the first manifestation of that is the appointment of Roy Alexander Weise and Bryony Shanahan as joint ADs, then Manchester certainly looks in for a treat.
Before then though, Light Falls aka it’s grim up north. More than just a tip of the hat to those of us from t’other side of the Watford Gap (Lancashire born and bred, lest ye think I’m a southerner), Frankcom and playwright Simon Stephens visited a number of northern cities and towns to weave together a patchwork of a story about a scattered family.
There is perhaps a touch too much of that archetypal grimness. Characters variously cover alcoholism, depression, drug addiction, suicide, infidelity and I’m tempted to use words like stoic, tough, bleak. A line of dry wit does break through now and again, chinks of light in the darkness but there’s undoubtedly a lot of anguish and pain for a region to soak up here.
The skill with which Stephens fractures this family and winds its narrative lines ever closer is so well done though, Frankcom teasing out so much humanity. And the use of a song by Jarvis Cocker (rather grandly referred to as original music in the credits…), similarly atomised, adds another layer of connective tissue that resolves beautifully in the end.