Review: Enlightenment at Hampstead Theatre

Three out of five stars

Edward Hall makes a solid start at the helm of Hampstead Theatre directing this flawed thriller about a boy who goes missing on a backpacking holiday.

Unaware whether he has perished in an Indonesian bomb attack, his distraught parents turn to a psychic and a documentary maker in a desperate bid to find him.

Then a disturbed young man enters their lives - with his own twisted agenda.

Shelagh Stephenson stuffs all her themes into the mouth of grief-stricken mother Lia in the early scenes, rendering it impossible to connect with her pain.

Middle-class guilt, affluenza, helicopter parenting, our spiritual emptiness, and collective responsibility for terrorism all clamour for attention with none sufficiently aired.

There is too much telling, not showing - but Julie Graham is far better in act II when she has less to say and can quietly emote.

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There are some lean-forward moments as Stephenson springs her surprises, but the thriller element isn’t sufficiently sustained. Stronger is the dark humour that springs from Polly Kemp’s splendidly oblique psychic and Daisy Beaumont’s manipulative media type, who champions the necessity of telling little lies to get what you want. Richard Clothier is nicely understated as Lia’s husband and Hall paces proceedings well. But the star of the show is his design concept via Francis O’Connor’s spectacular white oval set with Perspex furniture rising from the floor, and Andrzej Goulding’s projections that send clouds or trees scudding across the ceiling – or allow a ghostly figure to reach out in yearning.

As Lia declutters her home seeking spiritual cleansing, the clinical space becomes a perfect metaphor for our empty, design-led lives. If only the play’s arguments had been as imaginatively realised.

Until October 30.