Jimmy uses his Mum’s absence, and her phone line, every Wednesday at seven thirty to call a phone sex line. £10.80 a week for nine minutes of faux intimacy with the girl on the other end of the line, Kitty. Well, that is, until the time he unexpectedly hears Kitty’s voice. He’s not paying for it this time, or, more accurately, his Mum isn’t. He’s being paid. He’s at work, operating the intercom at Newport’s only doughnut drive through, and she’s asking for doughnuts. He asks to meet her in person, and from this point their relationship develops.
Fly Davis’ stage design gives us a small suspended catwalk running though the middle of the audience, making for an intimate performance. Rhodri Meilir and Alexandria Riley chiefly play Jimmy and Kitty, creating an on stage chemistry that really allows the audience to seamlessly slip into these characters lives. They handle the peripheral characters with ease, especially Rhodri Meilir, who also plays Stevo, Kitty’s landlord, who spends most of his time between topiary and his porcelain collection. Meilir successfully pulls the absurd into comedic realms.
Themes of loneliness and disenfranchisement are deftly handled in Alan Harris’s Bruntwood prize winner, How my Light is Spent. The main characters, live out their lives in a place of limited employment prospects. Jimmy, a 34-year-old divorcee, who barely sees his daughter, has his employment at Newport’s only doughnut drive through under threat from a glorified coin bin. There are no other work opportunities in sight, and his Mum is reliant on his part of the rent. In this bleak position, we see Jimmy fading from his life, first, metaphorically, later, literally. It starts with his hands, still functional, but completely invisible. Here, Joshua Pharo’s lighting design sees single beams of light sensitively used to symbolise the invisibility.
Through this disappearance, Harris shows how self-worth is so interwoven with one’s ability to maintain a job and provide a basic life for oneself. We see Jimmy, without a solid place in society, literally disappearing, it’s an evocative concept.
Meanwhile, Kitty is also struggling to carve out a life for herself in Newport. She’s currently working the sex phone lines and reluctantly contemplating becoming an escort in order to fund a psychology degree. Taking the plot on a plainly descriptive level, it seems ridiculous that Kitty would fall for a client after weekly nine minute phone calls wherein she primarily divulges what fictional clothing she’s wearing, or lack thereof. Jimmy’s character might just be charming enough to overlook it, but nevertheless Jimmy’s mother, his abandoned daughter and Kitty herself are definitely less well rounded characters, at the expense of the built for laughs characters of Jimmy and Stevo.
Still, it is a funny, thought-provoking play. At one point, Jimmy muses that maybe, like a candle, we are all given a certain amount of light, and then, that’s it, we just disappear. It is delivered in a touchingly mournful tone. If Jimmy is right, the postcode lottery is handing out candles unfairly. Newport’s Jimmy and Kitty didn’t get their fair share of a solid wick, yet they make the best of what they got.