A box of photos, a chain suspended from the ceiling, the only light coming from a small bright bulb — a simple set made into a beautiful aesthetic in Dark Room, a play by Jim Mannering, directed by David Thackeray, and performed at the Etcetera Theatre in London.
I would like to start with said set. In its simplicity — two metal stools, a few chairs, a box of photos and a coffee jug and mugs — the set captured the decor of a dilapidated basement well, leaving space for the roaming of imagination. Whilst the set was minimal, nothing was taken away from this performance by it, only added, for the focal point was truly on the characters and plot. Lighting was equally as effective, dull and textured. And at a few points in the play, the only light source was, in fact, a light bulb suspended from the ceiling, Centerstage. I felt this to be very effective and aesthetic, really highlighting that “basement” feel and encapsulating the action in a dark orb of light.
The writing for this performance was extremely superb. Not only was the plot gripping and surprising in its twists and turns, subtly revealing more and more about itself as the play went on, but there was a clear thought about character, giving specific and comprehensive traits to each of them from the off. The dialogue, in writing, was naturalistic in its macabre way and sped along the momentum of the performance. It was also so refreshing to see the use of nameless characters (i.e. A, B, C, and D) exercised in a contemporary performance in a non-facetious way that actually invigorated the action, rather than aiming for nonsensical political objectives.
Characterisation, on the whole, was very good, and the plot truly carried most moments of awkwardness in performance. However, I feel it must be noted that there was a contrast in performance styles. Whilst Roger Perkins (playing A) and Rebecca Finch (C) went for a more psychological approach, having minimal bodily expression, Arthur Cull (D) and (especially) Jim Mannering himself (playing B) went for a louder and more physicalised performance style. That is to say, the energy from these two parties were very different. I felt Mannering’s characterisation to be perhaps too energetic in many places, jarring greatly against the low-energy, in-the-head acting style of Perkins and Finch, and I found this to be somewhat fallible. If the style of one party was kept with, the characterisation would have perhaps been more coherent; although, a cast of performers physicalising with the same energy as Mannering would also have been tiring to watch for the whole performance’s duration.
As for Finch, I felt that she lacked expression quite a lot, and not in a good, psychopathic way; whilst her speech was usually reminiscent of and pertinent to the character of C, it seemed as though her expressivity did not quite match up. I wanted to see more of a glare in the eyes, a smile tightened with debaucherous anticipation, but it was not there. I will, however, commend her staying-in-character during the overture on the night that I saw the performance. As the audience settled down, one audience member began to ask her questions as she organised the photos on the wall. Finch kept within the play and ignored this woman — a difficult yet illusive and efficacious thing to do.
The overture was quite effective, as were the moments between scenes. The audience entered into the performance space in near darkness, a nice allusion to the title of the play, but also an uncomfortable and unusual [and hence, effective] choice. A dimly-lit C could be seen skulking about the stage, and this proved successful in creating a calm and unsettling ambience, leaping us into the world of the play. Transitions were, on the whole, smooth and charming. The dances between A and C added humour and subtext, making the ending of the play just that bit more powerful and conniving. The tango-like music was catchy and original, permitting spectators to be drawn in. And I believe it safe to say that certain spectators were definitely drawn in throughout this performance, as one audience member gasped and empathised with an “Oh, no!” at the reveal of a fatal destiny.
“An amazing piece of theatre with an utterly exhilarating plot.”