Playwright Angela Betzien’s The Dark Room is aptly named – it is very, very dark in nature. Set in a Northern Territory motel with its core issue being the abuse and mistreatment of young people (Aboriginal, in particular), this is very disturbing and confronting theatre. But with many plot threads darting out and cleverly weaving themselves together, it is also very captivating theatre.
With its theatrical devices of shared spaces and continual time changes, and an intensity requiring control, this play could well be a disaster in incompetent hands. Thank goodness for directors the likes of David Mealor; his style of direction makes this a stunning production to watch. Under Mealor’s direction the intensity and drama are real, never once hinting of getting out of control and heading toward melodrama, and his handling of the spatial and temporal challenges are well thought out and brilliantly clever.
These changes are also handled well by Lighting Designer Mark Pennington; with Kathryn Sproul’s motel room set ready to move into any Australian tourist area.
Patrick Graham (Stephen), Anna Cheney (Emma) and Nicholas Garsden (Craig) work well and deliver finely tuned performances, with Taro miller-Koncz handling the rather strange role of Joseph competently.
But it is Tamara Lee as youth worker, Anni, and Jordan Cowan as highly disturbed and disturbing youth, Grace, who well and truly impress. Youth/social workers are so easy to play as a stereotype, but Lee goes nowhere near that dangerous area, making her Anni professional but with a thinly hidden fragility. Cowan’s performance is brilliant: she plays with Anni and the audience by making herself victim and victimiser alternatively. Her personality swings and silences are truly disturbing and frightening without the audience losing sympathy for her.
The play itself does push the ending a little and decides to rely on bad language to shock at times, but then, is that not modern theatre?
True theatre goers will not be disappointed with The Dark Room, but theatre innocents should probably be prepared to be shocked while being thoroughly engrossed.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
Venue: Holden Street Theatres, Holden Street, Hindmarsh
Season: 14-28 September 2013
Duration: 1 hour 30 min (no interval)
Tickets: $19.00 – $29.00
Bookings: Book at BASS