‘More Light’ was published in 2000, by British, Wakefield-born dramatist and university lecturer Bryony Lavery, as one of her pieces of children’s literature. Fed up with meaningless acting parts, Lavery began writing in 1988 and by 1991 had already been nominated for a Tony Award ‘Best Play’ with her ‘Peter Pan’; this success was followed by another award-winning play in 1998, ‘Frozen’ (nothing to do with Elsa). One of Lavery’s first written works was a biography of Tallulah Bankhead – the infamous and wildest actress of the 1940s (c.f. Madonna or Lindsay Lohan today). Next came ‘The Woman Writer’s Handbook’. Since then, whilst writing around twenty plays for theatre, radio and Television, she founded a theatre company called ‘Les Oeufs Malades’ – French for ‘The Bad Eggs’ – and became artistic director of ‘Gay Sweatshop’. ‘More Light’ was specially commissioned by the Royal National Theatre for a younger audience, but it became contentious when some of the youth companies (after the competition had been backed for $600,000 by British Telecom) were reluctant to perform it. I would suggest that 15+ would be an ideal age.
This powerful and thought provoking historical play is being presented by ‘Theatre Arts at Curtin’, in the New Hayman Theatre, Building 302, at Curtin University. Enter the precincts from Manning Road in Bentley, turn right at the roundabout and go anti-clockwise around the campus ring road for about a kilometre. Park in last section of car park 9, near the bus station, and then follow the path opposite to Building 302.
The 90-minute performances are on, each evening at 7.00 pm until Saturday the 21st April. The Scene is an unspecified Asian country centuries ago. The Set Designers were Damian Duddy and Taylor Beilby. Their set was a series of black muslin, covered frames – 1.5 m wide by 2.5 metres high – mounted on castors. These frames acted as drapes or thick limestone walls, and were moved around the stage in a series of complex actions by the Stage Manager Ellis R. Kinnear and his Deputy Stage Manager, Holly Miller, and no doubt some of the cast. The artistic decoration was by Kiri Siva and the unusual extra properties supplied by Ella Randle. There were hundreds of amazing origami works of art which were designed and supervised in the making by Clarissa Lee.
The pleasingly subtle mood lighting was designed by the Production Manager, Stephen Carr, and operated by Alex Thorburn. The lighting gave beautiful warmth to the magnificent costumes, and yet minutes later the creepy chill of the tomb. Keiran Trembath’s sound design and music was outstanding. The introductory music was a simple tune, mixed with the same music played backwards (?); this gave a perfectly eerie atmosphere, and prepared the audience for what was to follow. The sound effects brought a shudder on a couple of occasions.
The auditorium lights dimmed, and the line of barrier walls parted. A young, white faced woman called More Light (Jess Nyanda Moyle), who is one of the ‘Ladies of the Emperor’, emerges carrying an oil lamp. This is the name of the group of young concubines who have not produced a child for the dying Chinese (Japanese?) ruler.
We learn how his ignorance and male chauvinism, does not allow him to think that he may be sterile or that the 13-year old girls are not yet capable of child bearing. He has requested that when he dies, that his female ‘properties’ are all to be buried with him, in his specially built, luxurious underground tomb.
More Light explains how the sex slaves have never left the Emperor’s rooms, always having to wear their heavy – but beautiful – silk gowns, and never being allowed to relax.
Once the tomb is sealed we see how More Light and her bolder friends, Many Treasures (Molly Earnshaw), Perfect Pleasure (Kelsey Gardner) and Pure Joy (Amber Gilmour) set about trying to survive. Poor Playful Kitten (Kyra Belford-Thomas) is terrified.
On wandering around the tomb, one of the women meets a convict builder (Malek Domkoc). Can there be any hope for these women in their new prison? We watch as Fresh Morning (Amber Anderson), Pure Mind (Jack Bengough), Young Friend (Ashlyn Burley), Love Mouth (Liz Joseph), Pure Heart (Tim Christopher Lorian), Moist Moss (Alexis Mercer), Rapture (Gabriella Munro), Scent-of-Ginger (Cameron Norton), Sparkling Eyes (Sophie Paice), Shy Smile (Shona Schutz) and Love’s Gift (Jasmine Valentini) join together, with ideas to survive and ‘enjoy’ their misery.
What will the present-day archaeologists (Callan Hodge and Keely Moloney) find in the tomb?
Written 18 years ago, this story clearly depicts the oppression of women that is at last becoming a thought provoking, centre point of embarrassment to today’s society. The stunning costumes (designed by Kiri Siva, who was helped in their construction by Amber Anderson, Cameron Norton, Shona Shutz, Max Gipson and Sebastian Boyd), all looked genuine and of the finest quality. They were carried beautifully as the ladies glided around. Their white faces had scarlet lipstick on one side of the mouth only, hinting at them being only half alive (?).These ‘Ladies of the Emperor’ included a few male actors however in one UK production the whole cast were males.
The cast gathered in various visually striking, artistic dioramas, then with fans fluttering, each actor would in a few paragraphs, show their individual personality. This production allowed the audience to see the storyline on two different levels, the first simply being what happens in the tomb, the advanced second genre showing their loyalties, hate, love, and mental torture. I have watched Jess Nyanda Moyle develop her skills over a few years. From her first semester as an acting student she was outstanding. Since then she has become an accomplished entertainer, often with guitar in hand, singing to the audience as they wait for the show to begin. Jess is a star waiting to be discovered. Here her exemplary 15-minute monologue was a special piece of theatre.
Throughout the 90 minutes of performance, the whole cast were rarely off the stage, and even on this opening night performance they all kept the pace wonderfully. Directed and choreographed by Leah Mercer, with extra Dramaturg by Lauren Beeton this show was first class. Congratulations to all concerned. Magnificent.