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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Dark
Donmar Warehouse Theatre, Spring 2004

If you don't make the mistake of thinking it realistic, Charlotte Jones' new play is a quite lovely and evocative theatrical poem.

The problem is that it is disguised as a realistic Issue Play, and so it's far too easy to put yourself in the wrong mind set and miss its beauties.

The play pretends to be about the evils and paranoia of modern urban life. We are introduced to three households in what seems to be a downmarket London street.  In one house, a middle age couple sink into separate depressions while their teenage son locks himself in his room, chats on the web and imagines himself a criminal.

Next door, a mousy little man falsely accused of being a paedophile and thus harassed by vigilantes lives with his dotty and domineering mother. And next door a young couple are shell-shocked by the exhaustion of watching over a new baby.

And then a power failure hits the street, and we are primed to watch them sink into savage anarchy. A number of very unlikely things do happen, not least their all gathering in one house to make small talk. And then the lights go on, and they all go home.

And it would be all to easy to miss what has really happened, a dream-like interruption in reality, a fugue state in which everybody broke out of their patterns as the world stood still. Ids and egos are turned loose in the dark, and manifest themselves in moments of sex, violence, criminality and introspection. No real harm is done, and a couple of characters might even be better off by the end.

Seen that way, as a play that looks inward at the psyche rather than outward at social issues, The Dark is a lovely and even touching 80 minutes.

The hints that there was something other than realism going on were there from the start in the staging and dramaturgy. The three households inhabit a single multi-level set, so that members of the different families unknowingly  pass each other on the stairs or sit in a chair someone else has just vacated, in Anna Mackminšs fluid and never gimmicky staging.

The three simultaneous sets of conversations overlap, echo and anticipate each other, so that two characters in different conversations will say the same thing, or someone in one house says something that seems to answer something said in another.

These overlaps and coincidences give the play the magical logic of a dream, and the sooner you give up expecting the political play that everything in the publicity and programme suggests, the more fully you can come under its spell.

In the large cast almost everyone has moments of touching personal drama, but special mention must be given to Anastasia Hille as the new mother whose fears for her baby are not wholly groundless, and Brid Brennan as the older mother whose concern for her teenager manifests itself in fear of death and passion for life.

Gerald Berkowitz

 

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Review - The Dark - Donmar 2004