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Credit: Alex Brenner
Credit: Alex Brenner

The Dark Room, Theatre503 – Review

Pros: This is what theatre should be; powerful, meaningful and thought-provoking, all done in a way that keeps you compelled for every single minute.

Cons: Disturbing enough that this really isn’t for those looking for a relaxing evening out.

Pros: This is what theatre should be; powerful, meaningful and thought-provoking, all done in a way that keeps you compelled for every single minute. Cons: Disturbing enough that this really isn’t for those looking for a relaxing evening out. Given that we’re all volunteers here at Everything Theatre, we give ourselves an extra day for reviews. Sometimes that’s helpful because of the day job, sometimes because you need time to digest what you have just witnessed, to work out just why it was so amazing. After watching The Dark Room, I needed that time to consider how I could…

Summary

Rating

Unmissable!

Once again Theatre503 comes up trumps with this disturbing yet compelling and worthwhile play that examines our failure to protect those most in need.

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Given that we’re all volunteers here at Everything Theatre, we give ourselves an extra day for reviews. Sometimes that’s helpful because of the day job, sometimes because you need time to digest what you have just witnessed, to work out just why it was so amazing. After watching The Dark Room, I needed that time to consider how I could do it justice in only 600 words. Spoiler alert: I can’t. It would take 10,000 just to touch the surface of why it should be compulsory to go and watch it. But I like a challenge and I do still have 500 words to fill, so let’s give it a go.

An Australian production, The Dark Room focuses on the treatment of Aboriginal children, but it could be any disadvantaged and neglected group. It is a story of how those considered less worthy are treated, thrown away as undeserving of our time, attention, care. But trust me, this play gives them attention; you cannot fail in being attentive. And, as if to drive the point home, the play is made in conjunction with the NSPCC who were present to talk to afterwards. I just wished I’d stopped by to ask how they felt about it.

Strip away the social conscience and this play would still be worth seeing. Over the course of 75 minutes three stories intertwine: social worker Anni trying to look after disturbed youngster Grace; downtrodden policeman Stephen and pregnant wife Emma; and Craig, the policeman trying to ensure that an internal investigation goes his way. The stories are tied together by one person, one event that affects them all; the death, whilst in police custody, of Joseph, a transgendered Aboriginal child.

The stories are played out in the same set, portraying three identical dreary little motel rooms in the same motel complex. The threads are introduced and layered on top of one other. Some superb directing sees the three scenes on the stage concurrently, each in their own world but linked to the other two. It’s not just the physical proximity that adds power; there are points at which characters speak the same words. As Anni tells Grace that it will be fine, that they are safe, so too does Stephen to his wife. The same words, but with different meaning.

Slowly the three scenes all head to their conclusion; all are brought to that moment when it all changes for each character. It’s heartbreaking but unavoidable. The closing scene, as Anni’s world collides with Stephen’s, as the truth of their horrors is revealed, is so powerful that, as the lights go down, you really don’t want it to end; you want another scene to show that it all ends happily ever after. But there is never a possibility for it to end any other way, because that is the point – that if we turn a blind eye, bad things are always going to happen to those we should be protecting the most.

As I said, sometimes taking a day before writing the review can help. I left Theatre503 trying to put the pieces together, but it was only as I walked to work the following morning that I realised the importance of a certain line, how it explained so much to me. ‘You sent me back, you sent me back.’ A throwaway line that Grace screams in Anni’s face, a line we might all dismiss in real life as the tantrums of an unruly child. When it struck me again, however, it sent a shiver down my spine as the play repeated itself again and again in my mind. Good theatre doesn’t end when the curtain falls; it should linger, it should make you look at life differently. The Dark Room does that and so much more. Please, go and see it.

Writer: Angela Betzien
Director: Audrey Sheffield
Producer: Shaelee Rooke
Booking Until: 2 December 2017
Booking Link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/the-dark-room/

About Rob Warren

Rob accidently ended up working in social housing as a temporary thing. That was ten years ago and hasn't got around to leaving just yet as it fits nicely in with his political views of the world. Started out writing music reviews. Spent many a happy night propping up bars in the back rooms of London's dodgiest music venues. Whilst he is still looking out for the next great band, Rob eventually got into theatre as you get to sit down rather than stand. Theatre was also kinder on the hearing, which had never recovered fully from the last Primal Scream gig he attended. Like his work, Rob tends to like his plays a little social leaning, which probably explains why he struggles to find people to go with him half the time.