Review: The Glow, Royal Court

Playwright Alistair McDowall returns to the Royal Court Theatre with the fascinatingly if challengingly constructed The Glow

Matter may decay, but the spirit persists. The energy we exude remains

If you’re in any way familiar with Alistair McDowall’s work (X, Pomona), you know that we’re not ever going to go straight from A to B. His latest play for the Royal Court is The Glow and once again is full of hugely fascinating ideas and a hugely ambitious approach to form that is quite the challenge.

We start in a forgotten cell in an underground Victorian asylum where a spiritualist is hunting for a medium whose power she wants to tap into. But the woman she finds is uniquely powerful and we find ourselves ricocheting from prehistoric times to 1970s Wales to medieval Europe and beyond.

Why and how is by the by. Instead this odyssey is presented as a kind of myth in the making, drawing on folkloric traditions and musing on how myths are created. We’re literally taking the long way around though and supreme shifts in tone mean that we’re constantly unsettled, if not downright confused. 

Sometimes this kind of obtuse construction works, and sometimes it is just frustrating. And for me, it was definitely the latter. Vicky Featherstone’s production revels in its gnomic textures, led by the intense Ria Zmitrowicz and a cleverly intricate design from Merle Hansel, but it’s undoubtedly hard work.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
The Glow is booking at the Royal Court until 5th March

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