First published in The Times, Friday October 26 2018
The elevator pitch for Clear White Light is certainly attention-grabbing: a contemporary retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher set in a psychiatric unit and featuring the songs of Alan Hull of Lindisfarne.
The production — the first to be mounted by the new artistic director of Live, Joe Douglas — is an odd hybrid of enjoyable, if hackneyed, gothic drama, scripted by Paul Sirett, interspersed with dynamically staged musical numbers performed by a live band alongside members of the acting ensemble. The idiosyncratic premise makes sense in the light of Hull’s experiences of working at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle as a trainee psychiatric nurse in the Sixties. He escaped into Poe’s short stories during quiet night shifts.
Often, when rock stars turn their talents to musical theatre, the result is little more than an extended medley of their greatest hits, tenuously strung together by a nominal storyline. While the score for Sting’s Tyneside-set musical The Last Ship features several entries from the singer-songwriter’s discography, including songs from his 2013 concept album of the same name, there is nothing cynical or jaded about the deeply personal project.