Enlightenment – Hampstead Theatre

Enlightenment – a. The act or a means of enlightening or b. The state of being enlightened. Sadly Edward Hall’s debut as Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre does neither.
Shelagh Stephenson’s latest play Enlightenment kicks of Hall’s tenure at Swiss Cottage. Billed as a physiological thriller it looks good on paper; parents struggling to come to terms with the fact that their son has gone missing on a gap-year trip abroad. It should be dark, brooding and chilling; and at times Enlightenment does seem to be heading down that path but then it veer’s off into material bordering, unintentionally we hope, into comedy.

The second act does redeem itself as events take that much needed darker turn but it’s a plot that never full convinces and leaves many more questions unanswered than resolved.

There are some nice performances here; Julie Graham’s emotionally distraught mother, clinging onto any sliver of hope; Polly Kemp’s comedic physic brought in to trace the waywad boy and Tom Weston-Jones’ simmering Adam.

Other parts work less well, not helped by some paper thin material given to flesh out the characters in an overall weak script. In many ways this seems more of a work in progress draft than a finished article from an accomplished author. Dialogue seems strained and never settles comfortably with the characters.

Hall’s direction is fast and furious and makes effective use of Francis O’Connor’s space-age minimalist set while Andrzej Goulding’s projections add a much needed sense of atmosphere to the piece.

There is an interesting story here but one that Stephenson needs to prise away from the hopefully unintentional comedy and melodrama. This is one play that far from leaving you enlightened will leave you confused and slightly disappointed.

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