s a Londoner, I’ve often discussed with friends how much we enjoy “red bus” films - that is, films which celebrate parts of London we know, or hidden corners that we would like to know. The recognition this provokes makes us feel that our lives are centre stage. How My Light is Spent by Alan Harris, is that rare thing, a play about the people of Newport, bringing them to centre stage, yet makes the poetry of their lives universal.
Jimmy is 36, yet lives with his mother. He works a zero hour contract in Newport’s only drive through Donut Diner and has a regular telephone appointment for sex with Kitty on a Wednesday evening when his mother is at the local Salvation Army Choir in Hill Street. When Jimmy loses his job, to be replaced by an automated coin bin, he starts to discover that he is becoming invisible, first his hands, then his bum, then his various other body parts, only his toes remaining. He confides in Kitty, who practices her interest in psychology by counselling him (she is using the phone sex to save up to study at university). When she turns up at the Donut Diner, they recognise each other’s voices and a tender relationship starts. Their alienation and loneliness is manifest in different ways. Jimmy, a dreamer, watches The Invisible Man in his bedroom, tries to make amends to his teenage daughter whom he hasn’t seen for four years, and ends up robbing the Donut Diner. Kitty is a generous and warm-hearted pragmatist, who spontaneously pays for other diners’ donuts. She is torn between Jimmy, Stevo (her slightly creepy middle class landlord in Malpas who would be happy to keep her) and the offer to take her career full-time and become an escort. It is her strength which enables Jimmy to find connection and in an ecstatic moment turns both characters into “pure light” at the end of the play.
The action is staged on a narrow plinth which runs through the centre of the audience. This works well as a metaphor, showing the tightrope that the characters walk, the narrowness of their lives, but also the strength of the connections between them as they traverse the narrow ramp and look up at the stars. Director Liz Stevenson admirably choreographs the ebb and flow of their relationship and gives freedom to the actors, generously fostering their performance. The two actors play all the parts with imagination and ease. Rhodri Meilir switches easily between the lanky and boy-like Jimmy, with his pudding basin haircut and his diffident charm, Peeke, the no-nonsense neoliberal boss, and the short and secretly romantic Stevo. I particularly liked the strength of details of characterisation. For example, Stevo has arthritic hands with clenched fingers, which he clasps behind his back when speaking about his porcelain. Alexandria Riley conveys perfectly Kitty’s intelligence, her engagement with life and ability to negotiate her way through life. The production is sensitive to the sound world of the piece, giving breadth to the poetry and adding a rich soundtrack where classical music tells us Stevo’s aspirations and his class background (although I’m not sure many Stevos would actually live in Malpas - Stow Hill might be more appropriate!).
These “left behind” are far from inarticulate losers and should be far from invisible. They have poetry in their souls, are witty and insightful and are people I’d gladly spend more time with. Alan Harris has written a play about the soullessness of modern life in Newport. There is a kind of Brechtian conceit in the drama which argues that love can conquer all. He doesn’t really come up with a solution to being jobless and isolated in post-industrial Wales, and the ending which is pure transcendence, where Jimmy and Kitty become light against the panorama of Newport at night, is one where which we don’t necessarily believe would happen, but this gives the ending more poignancy and raises questions of how love can conquer all.