Opened: 23 March 2004
Written by: by Charlotte Jones
Directed by: Anna Mackmin
Cast: Brid Brennan (Janet), Anastasia Hille (Louisa), Stuart McQuarrie (John) , Sian Phillips (Elsie), Roger Lloyd Pack, Matt Bardock, Andrew Turner
Synopsis: John lives with his elderly Mother and is helping the police with their enquiries. Brian and Janet's teenage son only talks to strangers. Barnaby and Louisa have a new baby whom they cannot name. Three households live side by side in isolation. Then the lights go out…
If you happen to buy the programme for Anna Mackmin’s production of Charlotte Jones’ latest play “The Dark” at the Donmar Warehouse, you will find an article in it entitled “Urban Symphony.” This term probably best describes Jones’ unusual 80 minute piece, which examines the consequences a power-cut has on three families living in isolation.
In Mackmin’s production, these three drab, melancholic existences are played out on Lez Brotherston’s multi-level set, which makes intelligent use of the Donmar’s limited space considering the complexity of the play’s overlapping narrative threads. Brotherston’s single set, which has all the families seemingly in one abode, fits nicely with Mackmin’s fluid, haunting staging which similarly drives Jones’ various strands lucidly. The often static blocking allows Mackmin’s cast to deliver some of their writer’s spare poetic language elegantly, lending it a sort of mundane dignity. Particularly powerful is Anastasia Hille as a mother fearing the cot death of her second child, sharing an intimate moment alone in her cold dark room with the swaddled baby.
Elsewhere, however, the production unfortunately falls victim to the fragmented nature of the scenes, resulting in a lack of energy and focus in the acting, particularly in the moments not in “the dark” (beautifully realised by David Hersey’s lighting.)
Jones apparently wrote “The Dark” in a week, and perhaps as a result of this, moments of plotting often seem overly-contrived or utterly improbable, such as Andrew Turner’s 14 year old Josh, who ignores his parents, lives on the internet and breaks into neighbours’ houses to terrorise them and spurt psycho-babble at them.
Some have criticised Jones’ play for skirting rather than exploring issues with which we are all-too-familiar; marital infidelity, the parents afraid of cot-death, the homosexual man living at home with his mother, the young boy who spends day and night meeting strangers on the internet. It is, however, the elegance and poesy of language with which Jones does this, which creates a moving, vivid “urban symphony” and which makes this play worth seeing.
What other critics had to say.....
NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Twaddle and Piffle....A grim night out." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, " Finely orchestrated, spooky-funny and luxuriously cast." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "As a vision of London life, it is certainly tenable...But...you feel that her play, like her characters, needs room to breathe." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "A surprising piece to come from the author of that brilliantly funny updating of Hamlet, Humble Boy, and may not appeal to all that play’s admirers." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Anna Mackmin directs this desperately bleak and technically complex play with superb assurance,....The performances are outstanding." ALASTAIR MACAULAY for THE FIONANCIAL TIMES says, " Feels like Eastenders at its most desperate."
Production photo by Ivan Kyncl