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A CurtainUp London Review
by Lizzie Loveridge
The Dark focuses on three families who live in a London street of Victorian terraced houses. There are pensioner and retired, emergency services telephonist Elsie (Siân Phillips) and her homosexual son John (Stuart McQuarrie) who is being taunted with accusations of paedophilia. Louisa (Anastasia Hille) and Barnaby (Matt Bardock) have a new baby after losing their first child to sudden infant death syndrome. Brian (Roger Lloyd-Pack) and his wife Janet (Brid Brennan) have an unhappy marriage and a teenage son Josh (Andrew Turner) who communicates not with them but with people in chat rooms on his computer. "You can chat online with strangers in Kwala Lumpur but you don't have the grace to thank me for your supper". She leaves Josh's meals outside his closed door. An electricity cut in the street results in a change of behaviour and in the dark their difficulties come to a head as they go on a street walkabout to the accompaniment of eerie music.
Some of the happenings in "the dark" are a stretch. For instance, Barnaby's "zipless" sexual encounter with Janet; unlikely I thought. Others I found veering towards the trite. Josh, dressed like a burglar, enters Louisa's house and looks as if he might take the baby. Louisa is obviously suffering from post-natal depression compounded by the cot death of her first child. Elsie comes to terms with her son's sexual orientation. The outcomes are rather too neat and the play's effect is less powerful and not gritty.
Siân Philip's working class Elsie is the comic star of the play with many good one liners, really modern day instances of the Mrs Malaprop syndrome. "The MRA bug in hospitals" (Moral Re-Armament) she witters on about rather than the killer bug MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). Anastasia Hille's sleep deprived mother is memorable as a desperate woman not coping. Stuart McQuarrie is a sympathetic gay man who is victimised by kids in the street and misunderstood by his intransigent mother.
I liked the scenes when different couples talk together in a kind of chorus, "My own wife. My own mother. My own child." they echo each other. Towards the end too, they all come together to share the candlelight and introduce themselves in a rather polite and forced way, a manner we reserve for first encounters. Jones has a good ear for dialogue but the most interesting aspect of The Dark is Anna Mackmin's direction of overlapping scenes.
Lez Brotherston's multi-venued set is a monochromatic slice across several houses in the same street. The crowded set is sometimes lit dark green, sometimes charcoal grey. Everything from the lavatory to the table and chairs and floor boards are stained or mottle painted in a dark indeterminate shade forming a dingy surround for what is sadly a rather dismal play.
The Dark is essentially a Fringe play which says little more than life in the city is an isolating and alienating experience. The performances raise the play but the overall impression I had was one of disappointment.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co. Click image to buy.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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