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The Dark Room, New Diorama Theatre

Written & Directed by David Byrne

Pros: An excellent adaptation, some great performances and fantastic direction make this a cohesive and slick piece of work.

Cons: Slightly variable individual performances in places, but this is a minor gripe.

Our Verdict: A fantastic show from a superb creative team. Definitely worth seeking out, better than many things on the West End and cheaper by miles.

Courtesy of Richard Davenport
After the success of our last outing to the New Diorama Theatre to see Scooter Thomas, we were only too happy to accept an invitation to return to see their latest production. The Dark Room is the first in-house production since the New Diorama opened in 2010, written and directed by the venue’s Artistic Director David Byrne, who also doubles up as the Artistic Director for the co-producers PIT Theatre Company. The show itself draws influences from two unlikely sources: the infamous theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht, and Tina Fey’s teen-comedy Mean Girls. On the face of it sounds like an odd combination, but after just an hour we left the theatre having once again seen this wonderful little venue punch well above its weight. 
The plot of the show is based on Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, and the overarching theme is that ‘all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. Set in a modern secondary school, we follow new girl Ruth in her rise to become top-dog of the school, ruth-lessly (excuse the pun!) manipulating and blackmailing her way past her fellow students and teachers. It’s a darkly comic play, shrewdly observed by Byrne, and it works remarkably well. All the Brechtian styles are there in modernised form: stock characters (the cool girl, the geek, the weak nice guy etc.), showing the workings of the set and direct address. In short, it really is a remarkably good adaptation, and one that Byrne deserves credit for. 
The performances were generally of a very good standard, although we felt that they did vary a tad. Madeleine MacMahon was excellent as the scheming protagonist Ruth, and her journey from ‘new kid trying to fit in’ to ‘manipulative bitch’ was wonderful to watch. Hannah Duncan was also very good as the original Queen bee, Jessica, and her dethroning by Ruth was brutal and comic simultaneously. The outstanding performance of the night for me however, came from Lea Milner as the school news-rag editor (and massive geek) Ethel. Milner was magnificent from start to finish in this role, making me laugh out loud in places and then feel a pang of genuine sympathy when her vulnerabilities were eventually discovered. I did feel that perhaps a couple of the actors needed to speak with a little more conviction in places, but this is a small gripe: in reality this is a talented bunch of young actors who deliver a first-rate show between them. 
By far this production’s strongest point is the wonderful direction from David Byrne and his team. The set is dominated by two blackboard-style moving screens, which are used to tremendous effect as the cast literally vanish behind them in places. Desks double up as computers and items of scenery are moved swiftly and deftly around the stage with choreographed fluidity. Add to that some fantastic projection work (which turns the whole show into an arcade game), and a brilliantly precise sound design from Dominic Brennan and Phil McDonnell and you end up with a completely cohesive show in which all the elements fit together with remarkable style. It’s great to watch, and a huge achievement for this young company. 
So another success story from this up-and-coming venue. It’s certainly becoming one of our top fringe theatres in London, and if it continues churning out fringe productions like the last two then we sincerely hope that you venture into the heart of the mini-Canary Wharf next to Euston station and seek it out. You won’t regret it, although you may find yourself wondering what on earth it is doing there! 
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the section below! 
The Dark Room runs at the New Diorama Theatre until 28th April 2012. 
Box Office: +44 (0)207 383 9034 or book online at http://www.newdiorama.com/whats-on-at-new-diorama.aspx?id=120

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