The Dark

Charlotte Jones
Donmar Warehouse
(2004)

Charlotte Jones' follow-up to the massively successful Humble Boy could hardly be more different. It is an unstructured experimental work that enters a nightmarish world where people face up to their darkest fears.

The Dark is set in three neighbouring terraced houses, which bleed together. This means that characters wander through each other's stories and frequently undergo identical experiences in carefully choreographed scenes.

Lez Brotherston's set is on three levels and everything from the bedding and a baby's crib to the microwave is painted the mottled grey of horror movies.

The script looks as if it might have been devised with the assistance of the company and is non-linear, more like a symphony in structure than a soap opera.

The three families all have demons attacking them and the main point of the play may be the need to address these in order to overcome them.

Sex-starved Janet (Brid Brennan) and Brian (Roger Lloyd-Pack) cannot communicate with each other and this has passed down to their fourteen-year old son, Josh (Andrew Turner). He is more comfortable in the chatroom and haunting the neighbourhood in a black balaclava, than with his parents.

Elsie (Siân Phillips) has mollycoddled her son, John (Stuart McQuarrie). He is gay and may be a besieged paedophile. Regardless of their problems, it is clear that the two love and support each other.

Even new parents, Barnaby (Matt Bardock) and Luisa (Anastasia Hille) cannot enjoy their nameless baby as they have suffered a cot death and are neurotic about a repeat.

Early in the evening, evil seems to rule in all three houses. Then the lights go out!

As the residents blunder in and out of each other's houses, fears are addressed and found to be less significant than they might have seemed. Where at the start, almost everyone was suicidally morbid, by the time the lights come back on, they have achieved a symbolic catharsis and can look forward to life, whatever its problems.

In Anna Mackmin's carefully choreographed (by Scarlett Mackmin) production, Charlotte Jones' vision of modern hell is played out to shocking, if sometimes funny effect. The star cast bring a fair degree of meaning from chaos with Anastasia Hille, Siân Phillips and Roger Lloyd-Pack particularly impressive in very different roles.

The cast of The Dark on set

Photograph by Ivan Kyncl

Reviewer: Philip Fisher