Theatre Review: THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Nisa Cole & Katie West in THERE IS A LIGHT

Nisa Cole and Katie West in THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Using 21st-century technology, THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT is a vivid and passionate production about the Luddites and how they helped inspire the birth of Manchester’s radical political identity

4 out of 5 stars

As with every tale of political unrest, many of the statements feel relevant to our current political climate. THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT focuses on the Luddite rebellions that came with the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. The movement began in Nottingham but soon spread across England, sprouting riots and violence across the country. Every part of this show is based on factual evidence, whether it be newspaper articles, police reports or eyewitness accounts.

It’s certainly appropriate that a show about Luddites should be delayed due to technical difficulties, but this show is extremely technically impressive. Its opening uses sound design and lighting to contrast the peace and quiet of agricultural life, as opposed to the terrifying noise of work in the factories. Pete Malkin and Dan Balfour use sound extremely effectively throughout the production.

Nisa Cole, Amelda Brown, Daniel Millar, Katie West, David Crellin & Reuben Johnson in THERE IS A LIGHT

The cast of THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

The fact that an integral part of this story happened in the Royal Exchange itself only serves to make these events feel even more real and personal. Being able to look around and imagine this beautiful building being smashed before your eyes is a wonderful aspect of the venue. It’s also great to hear familiar places mentioned, such as streets and squares in manchester. This also doesn’t feel like your typical “historical” play. The characters speak like modern people, they dress in modern clothes. It all feels very close to home.

It also doesn’t feel like you’re being “spoon-fed” a history lesson. There are some interesting facts and things to learn woven throughout the play, but you relate to and feel for all these characters, even Daniel Millar, the factory owner, is sympathetic. All the actors give a wonderful, emotional performance, and it’s great to see this story in a modern setting. James Yeatman gives some wonderful, inspired direction, weaving in genuine, realistic emotion with surreal imagery and sound design.

It was really interesting to see these stories from the perspective of the everyman. So often, the Luddites are described as ignorant vandals, resistant to change, but this piece shows their idyllic lives before the industrial revolution, the struggles that the falling trade brought, and the horrors of working in the mills. The sound and lighting design really is unsettling during these sequences.

Reuben Johnson and Nisa Cole in THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT

Reuben Johnson and Nisa Cole in THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT. Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

It also shows the absolute lack of compassion from the newly appointed Prince Regent, George IV, as he parties extravagantly and ignores the industrial unrest. Ned Ludd is also wonderfully represented as the mysterious figure he was, with most of the performers representing him at some point.

Things slow down slightly in act two and there is less performance and more description. This does break the intensity of things slightly, particularly the supposed climax, which feels slightly underwhelming, especially compared to the earlier things we have seen. This is disappointing, but the show still feels interesting and important.

Overall this is a surprisingly funny, inspired look at these events and people, and a wonderful, enjoyable night at the theatre. Definitely take a look if you get the opportunity.

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester until 10 August 2019.