Review – The Dark Things

Oct 8 2009 | By More


The Traverse Theatre: To Sat 24 Oct 2009
Review by Thom Dibdin

Porno, snuff and pretentious art are the dark things which director Dominic Hill and writer Ursula Rani Sarma are conjuring with at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

The result is a production which works hard, goes into plenty of dark corners and succeeds in entertaining – shocking, even, on occasion – but which heaps so much on its own plate that it finds itself with just too many ends to tie up as it moves into its end game.

Brian Ferguson and David Acton. Pic: Richard Campbell

First, however, there’s plenty to guess at about Daniel, played with a brilliant air of studied intensity and off-kilter surprise by Brian Ferguson. He’s one of two survivors of a particularly tragic and bloody traffic accident – between a bus and an articulated lorry.

The other is LJ (Suzanne Donaldson), but only Danny got away without a scratch. Except that now he can’t think straight for survivor’s guilt. He’s too busy obsessing about the relatives of those he saw die to get on with his painting, let alone start on a big new solo show he is contracted to complete.

Danny’s not helped by his scatty half-sister Steph, a scatty, self-deprecating girl played with utter conviction by the increasingly impressive Nicola Jo Cully. She’s sleeping on his sofa and inviting her inappropriate boyfriend Karl (Keith Fleming) back for bouts of passionless sex.

Nor is he helped by his shrink, Gerry (David Acton), who is too busy obsessing about his own failings. Just a few little notions like assisted death, confronting his own sexuality after years of marriage, the death of his wife and the suicide of a few of his clients.

As all the elements stack up their sheer volume becomes overwhelming, although Sarma does well to finesse all the different elements into her mix with a sufficient amount of subtlety to stop you wanting to shout out. While Hill works on making the narrative thread strong enough to stop it confusing.

mementoes of the carnage

Neil Warmington’s set, in a Traverse One which is laid out with the seating banks on three sides of the stage, also succeeds in bringing some clarity to potentially muddy waters.

All around are strewn mementoes of the carnage and a roll-call of names dominates the back wall. So far so bleak. But the pair of legs, severed below the knee but with the feet still sporting a pair of 5″ pornstar heels, encased, Damien Hirst style, in a perspex box above the stage do enough to suggest that someone’s tongue is firmly in their cheek.

The difficulty is that the characters are given enough depth to make you want to know more, but not enough to satisfy. And while there are strong echoes and connections between them, they are just a little too emphatic to not feel contrived, but not strongly enough stated to make that not matter.

There’s still plenty to the production to make it stand out – and more than enough meat in there to fuel debates long into the night afterwards – but Sarma doesn’t seem to have decided quite what she is wanting that debate to be about.

It’s a tough one – death, art and sex are legitimately brought together. But in trying to untangle them, Hill hasn’t quite found a way of allowing the production to coalesce around a single element.

Run continues to Saturday 24 October.
2 hrs 30 mins.
Box Office: 0131 228 1404
The Dark Things


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