A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light

Fri 4th – Sun 6th August 2017

reviews

Kiya Evans

at 09:12 on 5th Aug 2017

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Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Society’s first show of the Fringe 2017 definitely delivers on the emotion, but at moments falls short in its execution. Attempting to meld together the seemingly disparate elements of ‘London’ ‘a game show’ and ‘mental illness’, the show at points feels as though these three words were given at random, and Carine Valarché (director) had the job of integrating them into what became 'A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light'. Amongst moments of genuine emotion and human connection, this at times feels unsuccessful, and tends towards confusing.

This ‘game show format’ is quickly established as a defining feature of the production, progressively revealing tales of Jude (Maya Achan) and Leon’s (Malcolm Ebose) lives through exaggerated skits and recreations of uncomfortable topics their respective pasts, as well as song, dance, and story telling. Whilst the show makes full use of all of these elements, the overacting of the two hosts (Terry and Fizz, portrayed by Ed Paget and Charlotte Cromie) can often come across as cringey, rather than nuanced performances which make sense of the integration of a flashy game show structure and mental illness.

Despite the fast paced beginning of the show, the continuous back and forth between dramatic monologues and ‘the game show’ slows the pace, and often reverts into clunkiness, especially in the physical scene transitions. It is clear that Valarché has tried to vary the staging as much as possible, featuring a train scene, and, on a slightly less conventional level, a ‘Cornflakes Cabaret’. Whilst such changes are refreshing to the script’s continuous return to the game show format, which at times was in danger of becoming repetitive, the inclusion of excursions into the audience felt slightly out of place, since they were not used when introducing the show hosts and so did not make much sense as an entrance/exit for the character of ‘Freddie Valium’ (Harry Burke).

Jude and Leon become increasingly endearing to the audience, and it is hard to not end up rooting for them. Achan and Ebose carry the emotional weight of the show very well. The contrast between the game show format and these very relatable moments of human emotion could not be more stark, and the breaks in this exaggerated facade (mostly through Cromie’s character, Fizz) can often feel uncomfortable to watch. The result is a show in which the audience, rather than the game show participants, feel exposed and on edge; breaks in humour, which you find yourself surprisingly attached to, allow for moments of reflection, vital in a piece of this kind, which seemed intent on confusing its audience.

You will likely leave the theatre with a sense of unresolvedness, more questions than have been answered, and the feeling that at least some of the emotion portrayed in 'A Sudden Burst' rings true in your own experiences. Where the show delivers on this emotion, heavily dependent on the dramatic monologues featured throughout, it falls short on fully justifying or explaining the need for the ‘game show’ format, something which I feel easily tired some audience members. There are many good features of this show, and it is undoubtedly a very original piece, but it fails to satisfy the audience’s confusion as to why such different elements have been paired together.

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Claire Louise Richardson

at 10:03 on 5th Aug 2017

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This play was less of ‘a Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ and more a continuous outpouring of psychedelic, eclectic, glittering madness. We witnessed two characters become sucked into a completely mad gameshow – introduced by the two-crazed gameshow hosts as ‘life is amazing when you’re high… This. Is. Your. Mind’. This piece, written and performed by students from the University of Cambridge, centres around two people who have mental health issues and are taken to this gameshow to confront the mysteries swirling inside and outside their brains. Paradoxically, it is brutally surreal and honest; thought-provoking, and at times a little disturbing.

The piece is certainly full of great acting and a stand out performance was from Charlotte Cromie – who was not just a star because she was covered in sequins. She played the eccentric female presenter, Fizz, with terrifying eyes and a crazed façade that never cracked. This was carried out incredibly well, and in particular when she succinctly switched to the role of a more serious doctor in a separate scene. All the characters faced some challenging material; both characters Jude and Leon had some difficult and disturbing chunks of text to deliver relaying stories about their characters’ pasts. The material was all handled sensitively, focusing on manic mental health problems.

The character Leon could supposedly make people disappear; he was a magician who could allegedly make a passer-by or all the pigeons from Trafalgar square vanish. Most of the audience were probably a little scared that they might vanish too. The contrast of a theme of magic alongside mental health was interesting and in some ways comforting; with the stigma surrounding mental health issues, while it might not be seen that those with mental health issues have special powers, and certainly not to ‘vanish’ living creatures, it was almost positive to see mental health or individuality revered or idolised in this piece, as Jude relies upon Leon. Although, it is also argued in the piece that Jude is vulnerable to Leon’s influence.

In conclusion the themes, the acting, and the set are all brilliant. The eerie music of the gameshow and the bizarre French themed dancing are strangely entrancing. While the play ends with a set strewn with salt, playing cards and cornflakes, the drama that led to this chaos is measured and intriguing. One character summarises the play in a line – ‘like shining a torch through a duvet.’ The play is enlightening, but you can’t quite reach the source. Perhaps that’s the idea – interpret as you wish. Leon tells us that magic is not about diversion, it’s delayed illusion, and most of all defiance, so there need not be clarity. When the two hosts pose as doctors one asks the other; ‘are you a psychiatrist or a crazy drug dealer?’ Essentially, are you looking for problems or solutions? It wasn’t clear which ones the play strived to find.

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Comments

Ruby Gilding; 5th Aug 2017; 13:13:00

Correction: A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light was written by Ben Maier, who was not a Cambridge student.

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