Theatre Review - The Glow

FANS of Doctor Who are sure to love Alistair McDowell’s time-travelling fantasy; a drama that is hard to pin down and defies expectations. It almost feels like two plays in one and will likely divide audiences.

In the first part, set in 1863, McDowell takes us to the candlelit world of Victorian spiritualism. Mrs Lyall (Rakie Ayola), a medium, “rescues” a young mute woman (Ria Zmitrowicz) languishing in an asylum.

Mrs Lyall wants to train the woman, who she names Sadie, to help with her seances. As Sadie finds her voice again, she reveals unexpected powers and the apparent ability to commune with ghosts.

Unwilling to be Mrs Lyall’s apprentice, Sadie turns on her son, Mason (Fisayo Akinade), who she mistakes for an oppressor from another time. At the end of the first act, she exhibits a strange glow and saves herself from Mrs Lyall’s machinations by disappearing into the past.

Vicky Featherstone, aided by Merle Hensel’s terrific design and Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting, creates a tense, gothic atmosphere, the sense of walls closing in, and a palpable feeling of claustrophobia in this engaging opening act. I loved it.

The second half is taken up with the woman’s time travel through history. In the blink of an eye (facilitated by Tal Rosner’s ingenious video design), we are transported through various periods from the lower paleolithic age to 1999.

In 1348 the woman is captured and then befriended by a medieval knight (Tadhg Murphy), while in 1993 she is taken in by a kindly nurse (Ayola). She rewards those who treat her with compassion.

Featherstone sets a cracking pace and the staging is terrific. However, McDowall’s plot peters out in the second half, when the destinations become more important than the journey. The drama loses its way in the multiple settings.

I’m not surprised that some early reviews hail The Glow as genius, while others deride it as twaddle. It’s like Marmite – you’ll either love or hate it.

Until March 5

Orignally published by Camden New Journal