Theatre 503 in Battersea have again found themselves new writing with plaudits from around the globe. Angela Betzein’s, The Dark Room, an Australian piece, comes to 503 theatre via New York, where it has picked up a range of awards.
The Dark Room relentlessly ‘ pisses rage’. It is a challenging play as it screams and shouts about those who have lost their identity, lost their hearts to coarseness, to malice and derision as well as to spite, a play about isolation and the many facets of vulnerability that cause the weak to kick and bite and the strong to squeal and writhe with fright, fear and disappointment. Seemingly all their social and emotional territories collide.
Six contrasting characters all overlap in the out of town motel. What happened to each character is explored in a fragmented and stylized manner and yet it is all shot through with the grim reality of abuse at every level as Betzein unpicks their psychological and emotional scabs. She employs a clever format that saves the piece from itself. In the cramped bedroom the moves and dialogue repeat and actions are echoed – such switchbacks allow us to see not only the divisions between the array of characters but also the very connections they fear and loathe. Time frames are confused and conflated in the confines of the motel room. It would be too obvious to suggest that at the heart of this plays is a disturbed feral delinquent because Betzein presents us with a much a more complex picture of humanity in the dark as they struggle to find a way out of their behaviour patterns. Behaviours so entrenched as to become a way of life that demonstrates a poverty of purse as well as of spirit.
It appears that these disparate characters share more than they realise. The performances were far too much on one emotional trajectory – I suspect the officially disturbed ODHD, ADD feral child or any other delinquent has down time. Figures of authority were much the same, the stiff unbending policemen, the pregnant wife who knows this community is toxic to any future happy families. Of course, there is the tolerant haunted social worker (sensitively played by Katy Brittain with an emotional palette that allowed for a range of reactions to be explored). Perhaps she might make a difference if given a chance free form prejudice and sexism. The rest of us can only stand and watch as she struggles at the injustice of it all while trying to get to the heart of the matter. A hopeless tale which reminds that a little kindness not only to others but to oneself might just repeal the darkness of our hearts