Writer: Nicholas Wright
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Reviewer: Dave Cunningham
The Public Reviews Rating:
The title ’Travelling Light’ refers to the way in which images are conveyed from a camera to a movie screen and to the forced itinerant lifestyle of the central character and his race. But although Nicholas Wright’s script brims with brilliant wordplay the major theme of the play is the power of storytelling to bring together communities in particular through the visual medium of cinema. Wright’s understanding of the humanity that lies behind all good stories ensures that the play remains compelling rather than just a clever exercise in technique.
In the early 20th Century Jacob Brindel ( Antony Sher) has fled repression across Europe and , as a result, speaks languages only poorly . He understands the potential of the visual images captured by Motl Mendl ( Damian Molony) in an early Cinematographe and offers to finance his production of motion pictures. Their work uncannily reflects the development of the cinema art form with the discovery of techniques such as cutting and splicing scenes and close-ups. But the relationship between the two men also begins to mirror the antagonistic link between movie producers and directors.
Director Nicolas Hytner pays tribute to the movies and widens the scope of the play to cover storytelling as a whole. In the early scenes he explores the simple power of visual images by using Bruno Poet’s moody blue/ white lighting to expand the black and white images of the restless sea from the movie screen until they fill the entire stage drawing us into the world of the cinema. Hytner uses the growing excitement of the ensemble cast, as they contribute to the planning of the first movie with an original storyline, to illustrate the universal appeal of a good story and the unifying power of storytelling.
Hytner gets excellent results from his cast including Lauren O’ Neil’s earthly Anna and a sparkling comic turn from Alexis Zegerman. Wright reverses expectations by having the producer, rather than the director, the character who has true artistic vision. Molony bravely does not conceal the shallow nature of Mendl but still manages to generate sympathy for someone getting increasingly out of his depth. You have to admire him for not just churning out a Woody Allen impersonation in the increasingly frenzied, and very funny, filming sequences. There is a risk that Brindel could turn into an overpowering bully but Sher presents someone who is so moved by the sudden recognition of an artistic soul of which he was unaware that he simply cannot control his impulse to contribute to the art form. He also has impeccable comic timing.
One has to acknowledge the irony of one of some of the greatest talents from one of the premiere theatre companies in the country presenting a heartfelt celebration of a rival means of entertainment.