Left – Michael Lampard and Alan Hicks. Cover – Michael Lampard. Photos – Shelly Higgs
The Weight of Light is a richly crafted local production with universal themes of grief, despair, hope and fear. A range of original songs with intense vocals explain the journey of a soldier’s return home to confront his past and future.
The song cycle drama has a single protagonist —‘The soldier’ —baritone Michael Lampard, with accompanist on piano Alan Hicks. There are glimpses into the unnamed soldier’s life in scenes, ranging from waiting at a diner, through to arriving at the family farm, flashbacks to Afghanistan’s Kandahar, and a river.
There is no dialogue as such. The story is in songs with words crafted especially by Nigel Featherstone, who is a Southern Tablelands author of contemporary fiction. The story begins with the soldier’s optimistic return home, eager to see his beloved brother. He reminisces about good times, and simplicity of the bush. His thoughts as song seem calm; a smooth gliding along a highway. However, everyday self-doubt transforms into a deeper turmoil. A circular grating ‘whatiswrongwithme’ descends into negative self-talk. In later scenes, this escalates into post-traumatic stress disorder flashbacks.
So is The Weight of Light a war memoir? There certainly is a connection to conflict trauma, but the emotions are common to civilians alike. Indeed, the inconspicuous wardrobe of the soldier shows the universality of the character.
There are no catchy tunes of a blockbuster musical; the score by James Humberstone is more of a soundtrack backdrop to enhance the narrative. There is intriguing use of the grand piano on stage, such as the very lowest keys, through to direct string manipulation and sheets of paper placed to create a distorted effect.
Lampard projects his strong voice in proud and manly scenes through to frantic fearful doubt in more introspective moments. What is there to live for, with a family tragedy to confront at home and the simmering memory of a life-changing mistake while on duty?
Enhancing the story is set design by Imogen Keen, who places imposing pieces of timber and metal to bear down as a burden in some scenes or as safe shelter in others. The effective lighting design by Linda Buck transforms the stage features from Aussie bush idyll to Afghanistan firefight.
While there is an overall quality to all elements of The Weight of Light, it is hard to bond with the protagonist, as we don’t even know his name. It is clear however by Lampard’s body language and voice control when the mood is hopeful and becalmed versus a torrent of overthink.
Lampard’s lines are articulated clearly, but the over pounding of the piano at times distorts the script, so the plot has missing pieces. Perhaps that is the intent, a kind of patchwork of snapshots outsiders have to other people— recognising their torment, but not aware of the depth and details of their suffering.
Those intrigued by local talent’s depiction of humanity will enjoy The Weight of Light. It is not a war memoir and there is no political agenda. The piece is an insight into one man’s experience of war, life, death, and the comfort of simplicity.
The Street Theatre presents
The Weight of Light
words and music Nigel Featherstone | composer James Humberstone
Director Caroline Stacey
Venue: The Street Theatre | 15 Childers St, Canberra City West
Dates: 3 – 4 March 2018
Tickets: $25 – $39
Bookings: (02) 6247 1223 | www.thestreet.org.au