Chris Davis combines the banal and the offbeat, inspiration and failure, and chance and grit – all making for an engaging, solo free show at the Fringe. Bortle 8 opens with Davis’ frustration at living in a world where constant illumination means hides most of the stars in the night sky. He then takes the audience on a journey of a lifetime, into the heavens above us and into the dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean, searching for true darkness… or on the Bortle scale, 8.
The Bortle scale is a measure of ambient darkness and, in layman’s terms, describes is how many stars you can see. Davis engages with the audience well, involving us in general banter to set the scene, asking questions like the last time we looked up at the night sky. He draws us into the discussion, and makes his mission ours too.
Without any set or any props, he relies heavily on the impact of the spoken word to get his message across. He blends a multitude of stories together: growing up in California, a moment of intimacy with deer, and planting a redwood tree sapling are just some of those. Unrelated stories are vividly brought to life by his adept body language and script. There are also some comic interludes about failed relationships, a topic that’s always sure to draw out some laughs from the audience.
Once Davis’ ‘ship of imagination’ sails to look for absolute darkness, we somehow end up in space. Here we meet John Bortle himself, who is as eccentric a character as any. The strength of imagination takes us from there to the uncharted depths of the Atlantic as well. There is some good dialogue delivery here, with the actor employing just a tiny shift in the tilt of his head to signify a switch between characters – a nice technique.
But for all those positives, I found the script lacking a common thread. There are times when Davis just seems to be rambling on – and while there is an eventual resolution, I would like to have seen a more polished approach to the entire piece. It needed something to tie it all together, a common recurring feature like the redwood tree or the barnacles.
But, for what it’s worth, this is the perfect show for post-dinner contemplation. From the tiny cramped room on top of a pub, you can see the bustle of the Fringe below. It’s an unlikely setting, but as good a one as any to take time out of your day – time to reflect about light, darkness, and how many lampposts you’ll walk past on your way home.