REVIEW: Blackout, The Dukes, Lancaster

Christine Mackie as Angela in The Dukes production of Blackout.
Christine Mackie as Angela in The Dukes production of Blackout.

The toy train once lovingly played with lies on its side, its colours disguised by a thick coating of brown sludge, the rail track empty and motionless.

Prams, designer car seats and knitted dollies who once wore a smile are now lifeless through the shop window, lost in the chaos of the water.

Peter Rylands as Paul in The Dukes production of Blackout.

Peter Rylands as Paul in The Dukes production of Blackout.

The lights are out, the water rises and from the other side of the River Lune a teenager contemplates the drop from York Bridge.

These are just some of the emotional tales told in the Dukes’s latest production, Blackout, directed by Alex Summers.

The poignant and unique play, inspired by real life stories from those caught up in the storm, asks the audience – where were you when the lights went out?

On a cold December evening in 2015 Lancaster became a victim to Storm Desmond.

Finley Clifton (Jack) in the Dukes production of Blackout.

Finley Clifton (Jack) in the Dukes production of Blackout.

At the storm’s peak, 1,742 cubic metres of water per second flowed down the River Lune, causing havoc and heartbreak wherever it could possibly reach.

We were given an insight into to some of that heartbreak on Tuesday night in The Round.

The cast made up of professional and amateur actors and those from the community worked hard to replicate the aftermath.

Paul, a Lancaster University professor with a passion for electricity, is first to appear along the cobbled street centred in the room.

The Dukes production of Blackout which runs from October 13-November 3..jpg

The Dukes production of Blackout which runs from October 13-November 3..jpg

Paul, played by actor Peter Rylands, speaks about our dependence upon electricity.

A clever reminder to how much we missed it when it was taken from us.

‘Carol of the Bells’ echo as members of Lancaster and District Choral Society gently begin the play, taking us back to the festive period of 2015.

Snippets from ITV’s show ‘I’m A Celebrity’, presented by TV hosts Ant and Dec, are acted out by Maureen Cronin, from Bare – exaggerating the timeline of events leading up to what was to come.

Soon we are engrossed between the storyline of several characters and of course – the rain.

Clear marbles shoot down a fluorescent lit tube surrounding, matching the effects of rain striking.

The eye is drawn back to the marbles time and time again; similar to the River Lune rising time and time again.

An already strained relationship between father and son is tested during the storm as Paul (mentioned earlier) battles to keep his son’s attention and their combined love of trains alive before he grows up too quickly.

Tristan Grant playing the son, Jack gains the audiences’ affection immediately as different generations connect with his embarrassment for his dad and equally Paul’s annoyance at his son’s laziness.

But when the storm floods their Halton home the family move to a friends and Paul is nowhere to be seen, off on journey to research the power outage.

Community members act out the roles of representatives from Electricity Northwest and Lancaster City Council who explain the power outages and those effected through the Bay Radio.

Coronation Street actress Christine Mackie plays Angela who is born and bred in Lancaster, a business owner of a baby shop in the city centre.

The audience are quick to connect the dots as whispers of ‘Simply Baby’ are heard.

You are not prepared for the hardship Angela faces when looters rob contaminated goods from an already destroyed shop floor.

Her strength and dedication to serve her loyal and new customers powers through.

Her humble beginnings from parents of city market traders were portrayed in a sensitive and professional manner.

On the other side of the river we are introduced to Mel (Rhyanna Lord) and Chloe (Morgane Cozler) who battle the care system and a chance for a plate of food.

Their shared broken childhoods connect the two and their tales cover loss, homelessness and mental health.

But for both the storm leads them on to new and better things.

The community spirit fights back towards the end of the play and key figures in the town are given an appreciative mention.

And we are left with this from Paul the professor before the lights come on.

“Living in the past is not an option, nor is burying our head in the sand.”

Blackout runs until November 3 at The Dukes.

Tickets are available from The Dukes online at www.dukes-lancaster.org or on 01524 598500.