The Dark Room

Reviewer's Rating

This short play from the Australian writer Angela Betzien is well titled. The room we are taken to – in a cheap hotel in a rural backwater in Australia – is dark in every sense. It is a place where dark deeds and dark memories are performed, recalled, and re-lived and, though it is a short piece, the audience looked a bit shell shocked as we emerged from the gloom.

Six actors wander in and out of the room in question. As the play develops we learn that they are connected to a set of tragic events that have scarred them all to a lesser or greater extent. First we see a social worker and the disturbed teenage girl that she has removed from the family home. Then we meet a police officer and his pregnant wife tormented by the memory of events that link both of them to the death of a young cross-dressed man in police custody. Then, in a sequence where the lines between present and past are almost dissolved, we meet the young man and the senior police officer who we are led to think was the person most guilty of his death.

All six characters are wracked by anger and regret. And as the play develops we realise that we are jumping back and forth in time and so their pain is illuminated by past and present events. Annabel Smith as the feral teenager gives a powerful performance of calculated ferocity and Katy Brittain as the hard pressed social worker trying to show the child some tough love while holding fragile boundaries in place gives a deeply moving performance. Tamlyn Henderson and Fiona Skinner as the married couple trying to hold their relationship together despite the external pressures of guilt at failing the young man and perhaps at colluding with a cover-up are excellent. Alasdair Craig as the senior police officer bullying everyone in his sphere but tormented by the feelings which emerged in the events which led to the death of the young man is persuasively unlikeable. Paul Adeyefa makes the most of the small role of Joseph.

The setting feels 100% authentic – the small bare room in a cheap hotel. Audrey Sheffield directs with a sure touch for the rising tension as we approach the emerging explanation of the events that haunt them all but a little more light and a little less volume would have made the play easier to watch. It is a harrowing evening and the climax as we glimpse moments of the horror that lies behind the story is shocking – but worth it for a play that has a lot to say about the dark side of life and the price we can pay for failing to live up  to our principles.