The fictional open mic night at The Iron Duke – the actual location for this Fringe show – is home to a rag-tag group of wannabes and has-beens. There are the regulars, the newcomers… and an unexpected stranger whose presence has the potential to change everything.
For a show that mentions (and critiques) X-Factor quite a lot, there’s a surprising undercurrent of reality-TV-style confessional in the writing of Limelight. Each character, from fame-hungry talent-show ‘finalist’ Felix to nervous newbie comedian Lucy, comes to the open mic to fill a certain need. And each gradually reveals some baggage or secret heartbreak, just as X-Factor contestants must share their obligatory sob story.
In the same way that reality TV is an exercise in painting by numbers, so is this a rather mawkish exercise in giving everyone a painful backstory. This would be fine if these tales of personal disappointment and loss built to a crescendo, but each character is largely separate from the others, and their revelations don’t affect one another’s decisions. Little seems to transform as a result of the action of the play.
The performers are a mixed bag. Stephanie Price (who plays Kate the unhappy housewife) and Kerry Williams (Lucy, the wide-eyed first-time comic) are easily the strongest performers, and carry the show over some pretty clunky dialogue. Others are clearly cast on their musical ability as opposed to their acting prowess, and as a result, many of the scenes lack energy. Unfortunately, Kate and Lucy are decidedly supporting characters to the more central plotline of the gruffly grizzled guitarist Jim, his turbulent past and his uncertain future.
All this said, the idea of doing this show as an open mic night in the actual back room of a pub is a fertile one; and even though the show doesn’t quite deliver on its potential, it’s still an enjoyable piece. For me, the best part – which I didn’t realise at first was a genuine open mic slot – was from local poet Shirley Jaffe, whose beautiful poems about aging, loss and Brighton were a real punch in the guts.
I was disappointed, following Jaffe’s performance, that the promise of a show played out through the medium of an open mic gig wasn’t realised. Instead, it was a traditional play, with a few snippets of singing that would sometimes form the backdrop of a conversation or be arbitrarily hurried along. Were the story to be revealed through the performances themselves, instead of occurring largely during the ‘five-minute’ interval (which lasted at least 20 minutes), this would truly be an innovative use of the space and a fascinating exercise in immersive theatre.
It’s an idea with enormous potential and there’s so much to like about this production, but it’s let down by some fundamentals. Despite its flaws though, it’s still a enjoyable show, and it’s great to see new work by a local playwright performed in this favourite local setting.