In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the recent enforcement of greater data protection laws, Strange Town’s latest production, The Darkness or Else the Light, is certainly a highly relevant piece of theatre. The play follows a group of high-school students in the wake of a hack, leading to students choosing to ‘go public’ by exposing all their personal data in exchange for being able to see everyone else’s. It is a thought-provoking drama that touches on what can happen when we think we know everything about one another, as well as the paranoia that arises from the unknown. At the same time however, it does leave something to be desired.
Indeed, the production’s exploration of Orwellian themes – including the perils of constant surveillance by both the government and one’s parents – as well as Divergent-esque personality-based classification is intriguing. That said, it does occasionally feel rushed due to the short run-time of the production. Similarly, an attempt is made to pose arguments in favour of such surveillance, however it doesn’t always hit the mark. A final misstep comes with the play’s conclusion; it would have been nice to have a more definitive finale with a clear statement one way or another.
While the plot itself seems rather bare-bones at first and it is -at times- predictable, it is thankfully carried by the both the strength of the cast and the clever writing. The dialogue is sharp, with the jokes producing several laughs from the audience. The play also smartly addressing issues such as cyber-bullying and slut-shaming, and the use of all-black costumes and masks to depict the anonymity of the internet (trolls included) refreshingly breaks from what is happening in the ‘real’ world. All of this is further amplified by the endearing performances from several highly-promising young actors, with stand-outs including Miles Collins, Georgia Gill and Marcus Calderon.
Strange Town’s engagement with young people from across Edinburgh, creating in turn a socially-relevant drama, is both commendable and the perfect catalyst for addressing the issues highlighted after the production has ended. The slip of the characters into a state of paranoia over the desire to maintain one’s privacy, as well as the way they mature over the course of play, is made even more authentic thanks to these actors. In many ways, these performances are the source of The Darkness or Else the Light‘s greatest success.