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 The Theatreguide.London Review


In A Dark Dark House
Almeida Theatre Winter 2008-2009

In Neil LaBute's new play two somewhat estranged brothers meet because one has been sectioned in a mental hospital for drug and alcohol rehab, where counselling has reawakened memories of childhood sexual abuse. The doctors suspect these memories, and he needs his brother to confirm them.

Focus now shifts to the brother, and the effect of this reminder on him. After a digression in which he flirts with a teenage girl while we question his self-control, the brothers meet again, the other now happily released, and discover that the sexual abuse was something of a red herring. The real causes of their traumas and estrangement were other things entirely, and they are left no better off than before.

I did not believe a minute of it.

LaBute, who has elsewhere (The Shape of Things, Fat Pig) shown himself to be startlingly insightful about relationships and mental games, here never rises above the clichés of pop psychology, and the characters are no more real than the fictionalised examples in basic psychology textbooks ('John B is a 40 year old white male who....'). While there are occasional surprises among the plot turns and revelations, there are never any in the characters' responses to them - it is all strictly by the numbers.

Meanwhile, LaBute's dramaturgy is also mechanical and, when not clumsy (as when he throws out the entire premise and brings in reams of new material in the final scene), repetitive and predictable.

Each scene is full of false endings, as one character or another starts to walk offstage, only to stop at the last moment with a new thought, beginning a new conversation that carries them to the next aborted exit.

It's the Columbo school of play writing - 'Oh, there's just one more thing, sir' - and you can set your watch by it.

Earnest efforts by director Michael Attenborough (a LaBute veteran, credited by the playwright with helping to shape the text) and actors David Morrissey, Steven Mackintosh and Kira Sternbach can't overcome the script's failings or bring any of it more than momentarily alive.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - In A Dark Dark House - Almeida 2008