Jimmy is disappearing, literally and figuratively. At work he’s been replaced with a coin bin, and this morning his hands seem to have been replaced with fresh air. Kitty has always wanted to disappear, but Jimmy wants to see her, she doesn’t to talk about herself, but Jimmy wants to hear her. This is a love story, but not the usual kind. A romance between a phone sex worker and an invisible(ish) man was never going to be straightforward.
How My Light is Spent is the latest offering by playwright Alan Harris. Fresh from the success of Love, Lies and Taxidermy, Harris presents us with another serving of what he clearly does best; quirky, surreal rom-coms with a big Welsh heart. Both plays take ordinary lives; the zero hours worker, the fractured family, the dreamer with a day-job they never wanted, and sprinkle them with stardust.
The story is told by a combination of narration and set piece performances, the actors becoming a mother, a boss, a landlord at the drop of a hat. Scenes change with a crash, music swells and fades, lights flicker and glow. You often get the impression of a grown-up bedtime story being told, with the voices put on for you, and an ending that makes you fall asleep smiling.
Written for as many voices as the director chooses, this first airing is a skilfully played two-handler. Rhodri Meilir is adorable as Jimmy, his face folding in on itself as yet more body parts disappear. He has a puppy-ish air about him, inherently likeable, with his badly done bowl-cut (a clear testament to the actor’s commitment) and his pained-but-hopeful eyes. As he snaps into Stevo, or Andre, his whole body transforms, suddenly rod-backed, or slinky-hipped as the character demands.
Alexandria Riley is springy and sweet as Kitty. She’s got the forced insouciance perfect, so Kitty always sounds assured, even when her wide eyes betray her. It’s almost hard to picture a character that seems so confident, so directed, falling in love with Jimmy. But chemistry swims between the pair in their phone calls, affection warm in Kitty’s voice as she berates or teases him.
The scene where Jimmy and Kitty imagine a future together in a drunken phone-call is simply gorgeous. The snatches of life they create, with one line apiece, back and forth, weaves decades of a relationship in single images; taking up the couch to 5K, buying a wood burner, reading more poetry. It hits you in the heart.
The set, a slab of tiled concrete, the unfeeling Newport pavement, is a visual reminder of the grey background to this love story. Versatile in its bleakness, it is easy to imagine the space as a sparsely decorated bedroom, a crappy Newport park, or an underwhelming cafe where everything is 50p (and probably tastes like card).
The plays only fault is it’s similarity to Love, Lies & Taxidermy. Both plots feature a leading man who is a hapless dreamer, wanting more and not quite fitting; both leading ladies are self-assured and aware of their sexiness, tilted by financial necessity into using it for gain. The narratives follow the same aching build into a soaringly romantic crescendo. For me, these similarities invited comparison, with How My Light is Spent coming off less favourably as a show that’s slower and sadder than Love Lies & Taxidermy.
However, if you haven’t seen either, I urge you to. Alan Harris’ brand of off-kilter romance has to be watched. You’ll leave with a full heart and a sense of wonder; thinking that perhaps even Newport can be a little bit magical.
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