OTC’s LUX at Theaterhuis, Amsterdam

On arrival, all audience members receive a newspaper: ‘The Echo’. It’s a news print from the ‘new world’ which helps to pass the time – of course – but more significantly it adds to the sense that the reality about to play out in front of us is not so far from the world we live in now. But underground. A kind of Neil Gaiman ‘Neverwhere’ urban fantasy narrative.  

You find yourself sat amongst the Orange Theatre Company’s vision of dystopian disarray; a poverty eaten stage with no frills.  For the opening scene, you are welcomed into and immersed in the theatre experience as a customer seated at a table in a dirty, dead-end bar. The limited seating allows for everyone to feel close to the action – it’s an invitation of sorts to fully engage with the narrative and reflect on the message of the play. 

Plastic shrouds cloak the scaffolding set which lines two complete walls of the theatre. It’s like a ghostly remnant of a faded memory; a memory of choice, freedom and consumerism – the world we are very much a part of now. The scene acts to frame the audience within the play thus forcing us to see one another as part of the act. 

A faint breeze (probably from the back stage door, I imagine) blows the stained, shredded screens, giving it a slightly eerie feel. Yet, as we sit and wait for the show to start, this dark vision is accompanied by an almost exotic, spa-like musical backdrop (a questionable choice), which seems to be an attempt to establish a forgotten world-feel. Despite this strange pairing of audio and visual, the black leather, metal chains and unkempt hair give the costumes a suitably biker-esque, mysterious underworld vibe.

Flanking the wall above one corner of the bar hangs a banner: ‘We have no room for that which does not work’. It looks down upon us, the expectant crowd. As the play stomps and kicks it way forward the meaning of this does become clearer; it’s like a line from a new wave punk track yet it doesn’t manage to move the ground beneath me in the way I hoped it would.

LUX is an admirable attempt to create an alternative, post-apocalyptic setting. There are the less fortunate, the criminals and those hooked on the spectrum drug – a drug which induces a hallucinogenic reaction to light and colors. This is both an expensive habit and a life changing one. It inhibits the lives of the delinquents and frees those who have the luxuries. The surface world is deemed too dangerous and a threat to survival and yet some pursue this, as they have nothing else to hold onto. 

Disappointing noisy scaffolding and over stretched monologues at times broke the pace of performance however the energy, and the twists and turns of plot, kept me engaged enough. The cast were complemented by a secure sound and lighting team whose role was paramount in a show of this kind. 

Overall there were some stand out performances at different points in the play, not just by one of the actors but by several of them. In the opening scene, Sita delivers an impassioned diatribe against their ‘enlightened’ bourgeois: it’s a fantastic performance of spoken word from Judie Feenstra, and has a flavor of originality and improvisation. Building up to the end, the character Gabe (Coleman Kelly) really comes into his own and takes charge of the stage. A familiar face from other local productions is Jackie Poplar. This time she plays a duplicitous role: she is a convincing blind character who you never quite know whether to trust. Altogether the acting is promising for anyone planning to see it – there is potential here for something eye catching, something more than just seeing the light.

It is an interesting concept: within the shadows of the underworld tunnels, where class systems are enforced using light as a currency. A strong dystopian narrative idea from Sam Morris, writer and director, which holds a mirror up to our own world.     Rosie Fawbert Mills       7th October 2021