Jason D. Martin’s one act play, ‘Dying Light’, chronicles the relationship of two teenage cancer patients, Tom and Jenny, who meet in the hospital waiting room as they both prepare for radiation treatment. Gold Thread Production’s adaptation of Martin’s work is thought-provoking in its exploration of love, hope and mortality. However it fails to lift these potentially interesting ethical questions from the tired clichés within which the script is deeply embedded. In the programme provided to audience members, director Lara Marks writes that she first read the play when she was fifteen, a statement which hints at the naivety of the plot and its according messages. This suggestive initial problem is exacerbated as the narrative develops.
Too much of the action takes place with the characters sitting or lying on the floor, a directorial move which doesn’t work with the decision to use the end-on tiered seating arrangement – as a result, many audience members were forced to crane forwards uncomfortably to try and catch what was going on onstage. As a whole, the space of the BT works: its small size heightens the intensity of the emotional relationships played out and creates a shared intimacy between the audience and the characters, but this is something which could have been played with even more through the use of thrust or in the round seating. The action of the play becomes laboured through awkward and slow transitions, further encumbered by a strange and out of place selection of music, including U2’s ‘Beautiful Day’, which plays for a lengthy period as the two characters convert the hospital into a living room during a confusing semi-blackout. The audience are unsure of how to react to moments such as this; similarly, there is long pause at the very end of the performance in which it is uncertain whether or not applause should begin.
However it fails to lift these potentially interesting ethical questions from the tired clichés within which the script is deeply embedded.
Despite the slowness of the transitions, Mira Liu’s minimalistic set design works well. By reducing distraction, the audience are able to focus more fully on the two actors, whose relationship is the driving narrative force. Chris Dodsworth, playing Tom, captures the emotional depth of his character well and cleverly brings in moments of light hearted physical comedy to the role. However, in the more serious scenes and those which are heavy with dialogue, his movements are too stiff and as a result, the intimate physicality of his relationship with Jenny is unconvincing. The saving grace of ‘Dying Light’ comes through Charithra Chandran’s performance as Jenny. She is engaging and emotive in her portrayal of the character, reacting with a convincing sentimentality and emotional depth as the plot unfolds. Faced with the heart-wrenching decision of saving either herself or her child, Chandran puts on a moving performance marked by credible raw emotion, even impressively embellished with convincing tears. It is clear that she has taken direction well; her movements are both natural and assertive. The decision to have the disembodied doctor’s voice live rather than played via a pre-recorded soundtrack also works in favour of Marks’ direction, as it offers the potential for a natural response to the drama onstage. This is something Hugh Tappin, as the doctor, vocalises well – even though he never appears onstage his presence is commanding, and he reacts appropriately to the live action.
Whilst ‘Dying Light’ does raise serious and important issues regarding life, love and death, they are dealt which in a way which renders this play inadequate for an Oxford student production, and more appropriate as a piece of young adult fiction. It is a fundamentally weak script, and whilst its actors worked hard to compensate for this, they are ultimately unable to create the level of poignancy towards which they strive.
Dying Light is in the BT until the 11th of February.