Awarded the 2018 Pinter Commission, Alistair McDowall’s latest play The Glow initially presents itself as a spooky thriller, before eventually having its lead emulate Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who, jumping through time and space and trying to find human connection.
1863 is where we meet The Woman. Mysteriously locked in a cell for years, and released by Mrs Lyall, a wannabe mystic and spiritualist, who needs a companion and specimen for her spirits. However, soon Mrs Lyall, and her son Mason, come to realise it is The Woman who actually holds the power.
With only a 2 hour run time (including the 20 minute interval), McDowall’s 40 minute first act has strong pacing and takes twists and turns that start to build suspense. It’s in these moments that Merle Hensel’s design intertwined with Jessica Hung Han Yun’s lighting truly shine; with Hung Han Yun’s lighting being the true stand out of the whole production, illuminating the intrigue around The Woman.
Together with the design and direction, the performances by the whole cast elevate the production. As expected, Ria Zmitrowicz gives another star turn as The Woman; with Rakie Ayola excellently shifting between the egotistical Mrs Lyall in the 1800s, to the warm yet lonely Ellen in the 90s.
It’s only as we come into Act II, where despite the overall mise-en-scène remaining extraordinary, the shift in McDowall’s writing, both tonally and in genre, feels off. The once appealing twists and turns of Act I now feel overwhelming, particularly with the constant time jumps. You begin wishing certain storylines are explored further and others pulled back on, with the evolving friendship between Ellen and The Woman being a particular highlight, due to the humanity behind it.
McDowall evidently is trying to create a sci-fi thriller on stage, and visually it is there, but the writing, particularly in the second half, feels too convoluted. Despite Zmitrowicz’s incredible delivery of the concluding poetic monologue, it can’t heal the fractured second half.