Playwright George Mann tells Steve Wright about the ideas and creative processes behind Light, his atmospheric theatre-in-the-dark piece inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations and the ensuing debate on state surveillance.
In George Mann’s play Light, the multi-award-winning Theatre Ad Infinitum conjure an Orwellian future where a totalitarian regime monitors the thoughts of its citizens through implants. Charged with hunting down ‘terrorists’ who seek illegal disconnection, a young government agent encounters an enigmatic figure from his shadowy past.
Does the piece have a mood – one of foreboding, perhaps, about our technological future?
Light is full of different emotions and feelings. It revolves around a human story about a broken family. But the style – an invasive and immerse attack on the senses using light, darkness and sound – make it a very experiential piece, where it’s as much about what you ‘go through’ as an audience, what you ‘sense’ and feel, as it is about a story and visual metaphor. With Light, I have tried to create a nightmare, based on one I had ten years ago in which the pervading feeling was fear. I wanted to create that fear on stage in various ways. Fear not of technology itself, but of the power it gives a few people to invade our privacy, and of how human nature tends to abuse such power.
Are there more hopeful moments, though?
The family was once a loving family, so the piece does have moments of tenderness and love but also betrayal and pain. As for hope, I believe hope lies within those who are inspired to change things for the better. I didn’t want to create a hopeful future, I think the power of dystopian fiction is its darkness. It’s not really a future, it’s a metaphor for the present. A warning. Perhaps it seems hopeless, but when we leave the theatre, we are still free – to think, to act, to create change.
Tell us the thinking behind presenting the show in the dark.
Light’s title comes directly from the rather poetic GCHQ codename for our metadata. When I learned, in a Guardian article about the Snowden surveillance revelations, that GCHQ called this data ‘Light’ I was inspired to create a vision of the future using light. So I got into a room with our company and we began experimenting. Very quickly we fell in love with lo-fi LED light: it’s so versatile, simple, and it looks great. We found that by having the actors light each other with torches and LED strip lights interspersed by darkness, we were essentially controlling what the audience sees and, crucially, doesn’t see. It’s very cinematic. Slowly a style grew out of this simple idea.
What would you hope to send audiences away thinking and feeling?
Thinking about the kind of society we want to live in, and the kind of internet we want: either we decide for ourselves, democratically, now, or someone else may decide for us, and we’ll lose the right to choose, and all the freedoms we now take for granted. So much is already taking place behind closed doors, with our private information, and without our consent or prior knowledge. This violation of our right to privacy disturbs me.
Light is my humble attempt at contributing to the genre of dystopian fiction, and a way to express my deep concern about the kind of society we’re sleepwalking into. I worry that, one day, we won’t wake up.
Light is at Bristol Old Vic from Thursday, February 12 to Saturday, February 14. Tickets are selling fast. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/light.html
Pics: Alex Brenner