Play: The DarkPlaywright: Nick Makoha
Theatre: The Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Director: Roy Alexander Weise
Review by Heather Marks
The Dark tells the epic journey taken by a four-year old boy and his mother escaping a country divided by dictatorship and consumed by conflict.
The cast of two – Akiya Henry and Michael Balogun – play not only a young Nicholas and Mama Nick, but the rest of the characters we meet along the way during this perilous night.
Henry and Balogun rise to the challenge and carry off this multi-characterisation feat well and Makoha paints a rich picture of all those caught up in the conflict: children, mothers and curfew-breaking drivers, as well as rebels, soldiers and journalists.
The Dark is personal and historical, telling a story of flight and separation; one that bares a side of Idi Amin’s rule I was unfamiliar with, such as the female rebels and their pirate radio broadcasts.
Directed by the JMK award-winning Roy Alexander Weise (Mountain Top, Nine Night) and designed by Rajha Shakiry, the production is visually pleasing and very effective. Hanging above the stage is a roof rack filled with suitcases, and the actors make versatile use of the malleable set, anchored by a projector-laden desk.
In a play that flits back and forth between multiple characters, the use of a projector with slides keeps us well-informed of the chronology and location. The use of projected images is something I saw recently in Arinze Kene’s Misty, to great effect. With a bigger stage, it could have had an even greater impact.
The language is quite sublime at points, creating a sense of space that exceeds far beyond the walls of the Factory Theatre. I expect nothing less of Makoha, whose poetry collection Kingdom of Gravity was shortlisted for the Forward Prize in 2017.
One downside was that it didn’t feel like a play but a series of vignettes. In a novel or poetry collection, the continually shifting nature of the scenes and characters wouldn’t be a problem, but in a play that’s only an hour it felt like the necessary arcs didn’t build to the crescendo needed for a climactic payoff.
Not to say that the play’s climax isn’t compelling, but perhaps a dramaturg’s eye will be useful in helping this production realise its potential as a forceful drama programmed for a longer run.
The Dark is linguistically and visually impressive, with a compelling personal and historical story at its heart.
The Dark is at the Ovalhouse until 1 December 2018.