Megan Vaughan on Stacey Gregg's LIGHTS OUT

Over the coming weeks, blogger Megan Vaughan is visiting rehearsals for each of the five Site shows, chatting to the writers and companies as they work, and running her fingers over the walls when no-one’s looking. In this, her first post, she saw the space for the first time, as Stacey Gregg, Lucy Morrison, and the LIGHTS OUT cast were workshopping scenes.

Let’s get some things out of the way before we start. First, the colour: The Site is blue. Like, really blue. It is bluer than both the sky and the sea, no matter where you go in the world, no matter which beach resorts you visit and no matter which exclusive travel agencies you book with; this blue is bluer. It is bluer than Facebook, waaaaaay bluer than Twitter, bluer than Thatcher and bluer than Smurfette. It’s bluer than Leicester City, bluer than Stamford Bridge. Picasso ain’t got nothing on this blue. Yves Klein? His blue was homeopathic compared to this blue.

It’s so overwhelmingly blue, it’s like it’s sucking all the world’s blue towards it. It is the centre of blue gravity, a blue hole. And because it’s carpeted and spongey (the walls are like grids of erect foam nipples – you can poke ‘em and they spring right back), it does this weird thing to the light too: it clings. Today, the windows are open; next week, they too will be covered in nipple foam, fucking with the shadows and absorbing everything but the blue blue blue blue blue. Remember that Turner Prize nominee from a few years ago? The guy who grew copper sulphate crystals all over a flat in Southwark? That piece was called Seizure; this one might be called Coma. Soft and cushioned, it is like a blue womb, a blue padded cell, a blue floatation tank. Inside it, we are pacified by blue. Smacked out on blue. Tangled up in blue. Blue (da ba dee).

According to ‘brand experts’, blue is synonymous with purity, precision, trust and stability. You can use blue to sell vodka, paracetamol, air conditioning and private pensions. Or perhaps, if what you’re selling is yourself, you can use blue to communicate intellect, expertise, and sincerity: from corporate skills coaching to Strong and Stable Leadership™.

This is what I’m thinking about as I watch the cast of LIGHTS OUT workshop a scene. More specifically, I’m thinking about those pictures from the 2015 Tory party conference, in which George Osborne and Theresa May and Michael Gove all adopted that ridiculous guitar hero power stance. You know the photos I’m sure; someone on twitter said they looked like the character selection screens from Mortal Kombat. Up Up Left and Jump for the NHS Shadow Slam!

Just one of them standing like that would’ve been a bit weird, a chance to post “wtf is Osborne doing lol” before getting back to Netflix, but all three made it A Thing. Someone had clearly told them to do it. And, suddenly, the theatre of all that politicking was right there on the surface. We had evidence of the deception. They were pretending. It was like sitting in on a rehearsal before the characters had been fully drawn, before the status games were complete. “Okay guys, we’ll run it once with the weird leg thing and then give it a go on with the wigs/the stilts/wheelie chairs – see what sticks.”

A rehearsal room is a strange place to be when you’re more accustomed to its results. It’s so easy to erase the making from your frame around the work. That period of trying things out, of writing and designing and building things and focusing lights – it all kinda becomes this singular, theoretical programme note in your mind. Like, you know the show hasn’t just appeared in its finished form, but imagining the specifics of its journey provides too many possibilities for you to comprehend. Visiting rehearsals at The Site, I’m almost panicked by the potential of it all. Literally how is it ever possible to make a decision about anything? How can they tell what’s good, what’s working?

I remember that thing people always say about Thomas Edison: about how he tried fifty gazillion-bajillion types of lightbulb before he found the right one, which is apparently supposed to make us persevere with our projects and laugh in the face of failure etc etc. That’s all very well and good if you’re Thomas Edison, but I bet if he’d already sold a bunch of tickets to the Lightbulb Switch-On Party in five days’ time he’d be fucking bricking it.

In LIGHTS OUT, Stacey Gregg is writing the opposite to Edison’s story: it’s a switch-off. Ten years from now, accelerated automisation has removed huge sections of the current workforce from employment. Whole factories operate without any human workers, so do without any source of light at all. Meanwhile, government-mandated skills coaching remoulds the population to maximise investment potential. Characters practice being their future selves, ready for future jobs, future speeches, future opportunities. They hope for a chance to perform for money.

It’s the kind of thing that makes my braincells salivate. In this blue space, like a screen awaiting its CGI monsters, actors rehearse being actors rehearsing. Today, Stacey and Director Lucy create an extra metatheatrical layer: they steer the actors who in turn improvise the rehearsal of the behaviour which will then form scenes in a brand new play. When they also turn in my direction to explain some context, or plot point, or salubrious political gossip, it’s as if they momentarily reverse the gif and suck me into the scene too. And from there, the world outside: Sloane Square, the tube drivers, the garden bridge, the election campaign, our trade agreements. I realise that it’s not the complexity of the plot and character decisions that makes my head spin, but how they know when to stop including things. When your topic is simple human value, everything is relevant.

Someone says: “I used to do a bit of theatre, some experimental stuff, some ‘new work’, but it didn’t really go anywhere…”

We all smile.

Someone says: “It’s the state of the nation, the issue of our times, the Brexit of 2027.”

250 miles away, Theresa May tours a business centre, but only after all the staff have gone home.

Someone says: “Imagine you’re being slightly strangled. Try it. It takes the class out of your voice.”

In a TV studio on the other side of London Iain Duncan Smith explains that we must “control the large numbers of low-value people…”

We close the window and go again, this time with our legs apart.