Featuring at the Maidment Theatre until June 20th, Auckland Theatre Company’s Enlightenment is a thriller that delights, intrigues, and quite frankly, frustrates. Now, frustrating is usually not the most complimentary description, but in this case, I mean it in the most flattering way possible. My frustration with Shelagh Stephenson’s Enlightenment centres on a particularly mysterious character, played by the very engaging Jordan Mooney. Unfortunately, the suspenseful nature of Enlightenment restricts what can be revealed about Mooney’s character. The evasive figure is the catalyst for the central events of the play and is engaging from entry to exit. My frustration with him lies with the minimal knowledge the character supplies the audience with at the climax of the play. However, this frustration ultimately highlights the effectiveness of the play, as I was and am desperate for more.
Alongside Mooney is an all-star cast that brings Enlightenment to life. Rachel Nash and Stephen Lovatt play mournful couple Lia and Nick, who are faced with feelings of both confusion and grief as they deal with the unknown loss of their abroad son. The relationship between these two is one of the most realistic aspects of the play. Nash’s emotional choices with her character contrast with Lovatt’s standoffish performance. The stark differences between Lia and Nick’s grief resonate realistically, as they reflect the difficulties partners face when going through hard times. Popular stage and screen actor Anna Jullienne is also a standout in Enlightenment, with her business savvy character, Joanne, often providing welcome comedic relief from the intense and sometimes weary scenes.
Staging is a particularly interesting feature of Enlightenment, with set designer Dan Williams opting for a minimalistic design. Scenes from Enlightenment occur primarily in Nick and Lia’s home, with Williams using moving neon structures to create this environment. As the play progresses, the literal nature of the set digresses, becoming less enclosing and more figurative. By the end of the play the set disappears completely, with the final structure being forcibly pushed off stage in an expressive move by Mooney. Director Andrew Foster also utilises interesting set choices at the start of play. Upon entering the theatre, the audience is greeted by a large screen that displays a monitor of the foyer of the building. The audience then realises they have been displayed to the theatre their whole time in the foyer, linking to the sinister surveillance themes of the play.
ATC’s Enlightenment is a play that grabs its audience’s attention through its ominous underlinings. Rather slow and possibly lacking during the first act, Enlightenment picks up in its second half through the efforts of Mooney. A dynamic play that could benefit from a slightly more turbulent emotional ride, Enlightenment is a thrilling success attributed to its accomplished cast.