Fairytales retold for modern audiences are always popular, striking a balance as they do between recognition of the familiar and revelation of the old turned new. Nightlight, a new play by Francesca Waite written as part of the Lowry’s It’s Dark Outside series, is not just markedly modern but also markedly localised. It focuses on a group of young people in Salford, living in fear of powerful gang leader King. As each fairytale plays out, characters cross paths and join forces to ultimately end King’s reign and ensure that good prevails.
The different plots taken from various Grimms’ Fairy Tales are woven together well, helped by an omniscient narrator figure whose presence suits the genre. Although violence and oppression play a part in the story, these dark themes are outweighed by comedy material – from an arm wrestling match set to the Rocky theme tune, to the dinner ladies commenting shrewdly on events, to the twelve sisters arguing as they get ready to go out. On a production level, things are kept simple – a single image is projected onto a screen behind the stage to indicate the scene’s location, which is very effective.
Nightlight concludes as it begins, with the cast in tableau as the narrator sums up events – a device that once again compliments the fairytale genre very well. Overall, this is a well-crafted and well-written production, though it never feels as dark or threatening as its source material.
The second half of this Lowry Young Actors double bill is the familiar classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like Nightlight, it is set in Salford (with any reference to Athens in the original text replaced with either Salford or Manchester) and begins with two girls dressing up to play a game of make believe. This game provides a quick introduction to the story and establishes the production’s toy box theme, which is an inspired choice. With Puck and Oberon as superheroes riding in on scooters instead of flying, love-in-idleness juice replaced with glitter and a pop-up tent solving Hermia and Lysander’s sleeping arrangements, another layer of humour is added and the story becomes young and relatable.
Laughs come thick and fast throughout, aided by a cast evidently at ease with Shakespeare and their characters. The meetings of the mechanicals and the lovers’ rows are full of dynamic movement, whilst Puck, by contrast, is a comically weary and unwilling advisor to a daft Oberon.
However, at nearly two hours with no break this play is too long – particularly as the second half of a double bill. The comic book style animation of the story that follows the girls’ introduction is extremely funny, but adds unnecessarily to the play’s length – the plot has already been summarised and the subsequent live action returns to the story’s start. Nonetheless, it is a comic, energetic and confident production that made me look at the source material in a completely different way.