Arts Review: The Dark

Tron Theatre, 15th – 16th of February 2019

Based on playwright Nick Makoha’s flight from dictatorship in his home country of Uganda as a child, The Dark is a dynamic experience that is heavy with urgency. Before walking into this play, I knew absolutely nothing about the political history of Uganda, and The Dark did not sympathise with my lack of knowledge. Aside from a shallow historical background, the show leaves an ignorant audience member to piece together the details, as if through the eyes of Makoha as a child. None of this is a bad thing, however – if anything the experience encourages research on the atrocities committed under the reign of Idi Amin, whilst providing the human experience as the first point of contact.

The talent in the show contribute greatly to the investment in the figures depicted in the narrative, based on real people encountered during Makoha’s journey. Actors Michael Balogun and Akiya Henry switch between roles seamlessly, creating a host of characters with easily recognisable quirks, but never sacrificing believability, treating even the most irritating, odd figures with incredible empathy. The role swapping creates something of a frantic energy which is not unwelcome in a narrative centred around fleeing from dictatorship.

The show is also visually dynamic: a large metal rack hangs from the ceiling holding bags and suitcases, swaying as the actors interact with it. Underneath are worn seats organised to resemble a van, until they are rearranged by the actors to become a living room. A projector stands to one side of the stage, the image it shows constantly being changed from old photographs to handwritten timestamps, back and forth. The show is never static, moving at breakneck speed. It is an incredibly satisfying way to keep the audience mentally on the move, running from one onstage image to the next as the characters run from their country.

The Dark does not hold the audience’s hand, baring the fear of a child and his mother fleeing from their home in a frank and human way. It is an essential work in an age where European countries let Syrian refugees drown in the Mediterranean and the US forces Mexican refugee children from their parents, and a reminder that underneath every immigration statistic is a human story.

[Fin Dickens]

[Image credit: Carolyne Hill of ChillCreate]

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