Review: Electric Candles

Rowan Gow 23 October 2019

Cerian Craske’s poignant new script’s debut is a little rough around the edges, but shows great emotional depth and potential.

Electric Candles is about a student, Valerie, trying to come to terms with the tragic death of her boyfriend, Dean, and best-friend, Mel, by holding a seance with ikea tealights. To her surprise, the two appear, but the circumstances surrounding their deaths are more complicated than she thought. In this piece of new writing, Craske addresses emotionally complex issues including abuse, love, and grief.

Image credit: Cerian Craske, Annika Hi

Things get off to a bit of a slow start; Stephanie Jat’s Valerie, and Artemis Nicoll Cowley’s Dean are both ably portrayed, but the pace is noticeably sluggish, with a slight lack of urgency given the supernatural events occurring (though on this note, credit should be given to Em Jones’s sound design, an understated feature that is all the more disturbing as a result). Part of this seemed to be opening night nerves – with a fairly inexperienced cast in such an intimate venue, the odd fumble here and there is to be expected.

The tension cranks up with the entrance of Sophie Stemmons’ Mel, who offers excellent stage presence together with a well crafted depth of emotions, striking a balance between dramatic moments and believable naturalism. Stemmons’ performance is consistently engaging and precise, and works well in tandem with Jat to portray a genuine, touching connection that demonstrates the cast’s strength as a tightknight unit. There are moments in which characters pace back and forth repeatedly, or suddenly turn to face the audience while monologuing – in these instances, slightly sharper direction might have been beneficial, so as to maintain the intimate dynamic fostered between the cast without self-conscious interruption, but the overall give and take between the three is engaging despite this.

Image credit: Cerian Craske, Annika Hi

Craske has written a moving and intelligent script which offers insight into abuse, particularly gaslighting (thematically complemented by Annabelle York’s striking lighting design, put to excellent effect) and is a moving study of human relationships. A highlight  was the representation of queer characters in such a way that felt organic and perceptive, with a conflict not centrered exclusively around their queerness lending them a sense of authenticity and roundedness.

Image credit: Cerian Craske, Annika Hi

Unfortunately, the performance’s handling of grief feels somewhat deflated; while the script clearly offers potential for powerful moments of intensity, it never quite feels as if we get to experience a raw emotional crescendo, perhaps not helped by a very short runtime of under 45 minutes. Jat showed promise with chilling deliveries such as “You didn’t want a girlfriend, you wanted a possession”, while Nicoll Cowley also shows nice flickers of anger and malice; I found myself wanting to see more of these sides of their characters, and for them to convert some of the occasional stiltedness into the force and tension that seemed just out of reach. Despite these issues, however, what Electric Candles might have lacked in polish, it makes up for with heart, and a showcase of fresh potential.

 

3 Stars