"The Dark Room"
WORDS BY HARRY LICENCE
Entering the reading room theatre, the audience is confronted with the sense that something bad is about to happen. A neon purple glow lights the stage as you pass a sign reading “motel”. Before the play has even started, the set has transported you to somewhere dirty, dark and simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, somewhere grey.
This theme of greyness perpetuates throughout the entirety of the play as we get a short but harrowing glimpse into the lives of 6 characters and victims of Australia’s Northern Territory. Anni (Caitlin Williams), plays a tired social worker trying to take care of a mysterious and deeply troubled young girl named Grace (Danni Maher). As the audience tries to make sense of the two characters’ strange relationship the themes of darkness and greyness are further played with. We don’t know who to feel sorry for, we don’t know if Grace’s threats of self-harm are substantiated or if she is just doing it for attention. Neither character is likeable, both simply exist as stark, realistic portrayals of damaged human beings.
A much needed lightness is brought to the play when Milo Ryan and Phoebe Hayden take the stage. Playing a police officer and his jaded wife, the two quickly win over the audience with their comedic back and forth over whether Stephen can go out with the boys or not. Special mention must go to Milo Ryan for his delivery of the line “need to piss my dick,” as well as his ability to immediately get the audience on side with his larrikin antics, he showcased great ability to transition between low and high status between scenes, moving well from a comedic to dramatic performance.
Director James Mukheibir must be praised for his excellent staging and lighting decisions. The ending of the play features a tragic suicide, staged ominously as the lights periodically cut up and down. In between each blackout characters move suddenly, creating photograph like tableaus building tension reminiscent of a horror film. This moment was honestly one of the scariest things I’ve seen staged live with audience members visibly leaning back in their seats in order to move further from the horror unfolding on stage.
The play had no outstanding nor show stealing performances, instead all actors played their roles effectively to build the drama of each scene, allowing the show as a whole to be complimented by their restraint. Campbell Taylor’s performance however, must be mentioned for its cold, tense and effective work in making the audience feel uneasy from the moment he entered the stage.
Overall seeing the dark room was a difficult but worthwhile experience. James Mukheibir is highly effective in making the audience feel uncomfortable through his cold and uncompromising portrayal of what happens when bad things happen to good people. Or is it of when bad things make people bad?
The play ends with no bows, uncomfortable applause followed by a voice telling you “The performance is over now, please leave.” The lack of closure, understanding or answers left me and the rest of the audience feeling hollow, reflective and most of all confused by the events we had just witnessed. In this way, the play acted as an incredibly effective mirror for real life. Mukheibir and his cast should be very proud of what they achieved. It is no easy task to put on a play that was never designed to be enjoyed. I don’t think you are meant to leave the theatre feeling fulfilled or happy or anything concrete. Simply grey. For this well realised ambition I applaud all those involved.