The Dark Room is high drama set in a remote region of outback Australia. Audrey Sheffield has brought this story to life with a fine eye for detail and crafted a performance from a strong cast. The Dark Room has dark themes and uses disturbing language and images in order to provoke response and discussion.
Deep into the night, in a run-down motel somewhere in central Australia, six lost souls collide in a distant tragedy of lovesickness and social breakdown – only it’s not the same night.
Written by Angela Betzien, The Dark Room is horrific, a psychological thriller. Its theme is the abuse of authority and maltreatment of children in institutions. The Dark Room was first produced in 2009 at the Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney where it was awarded Best New Australian Work in the Sydney Theatre Awards. This is the UK premiere of the work by Betzien, a former Playwright on Attachment at the National Theatre Studio.
The set is a true-to-life rendition of an Australian motel room. It’s small, soulless, stifling, and unattractive – perfect for this story, reflecting as it does the lives of the characters. The set is used in an unusual way. When new characters enter the space they do so in a different time frame and the four people in the space are in different scenes. This is further complicated when it becomes clear that there is some connection between them all.
As the play begins, the room is taken by Anni, a social worker who has picked up a young girl from an intolerable situation at home. Anni has been unable to find a suitable placement for the night for Grace and seeks emergency shelter in the motel. It’s not the first time that Anni and Grace have been in this situation. Grace is violent and unstable.
Katy Brittain plays Anni with strength and sympathy and is totally believable in her role. Her charge, Grace, is extremely complex and reveals many layers of pain and longing covered with a veneer of antisocial behaviours in a bid to be noticed. She is played by Annabel Smith who handles the role capably, especially in the quieter scenes. Smith certainly commits to the terror and conveys that sense of dread to the audience.
Then Emma and Stephen invade the space with a stark contrast in personalities, situations and themes. It seems at first to be a respite from the angst. Stephen is drunk and Emma is not. This a dysfunctional marriage going down fast. Stephen is a policeman and has had contact with Anni and Grace in unpleasant circumstances. Stephen needs to escape, both his wife and his professional life while Emma seeks security.
Emma is played by Fiona Skinner and Tamlyn Henderson tapdances in hobnail boots through the role of Stephen.
The last person to take the room is Craig, a colleague of Stephen’s who comes to see Craig for an off the record meeting. They are colluding to cover up some action of Craig’s. This involves Joseph, a young man who comes to town and stirs dangerous passions within the domineering Craig. It is the ghost of Joseph who is in the room in all the scenes, affecting Grace in her distress and spooking the guilt of Craig.
Alasdair Craig dominates the stage in his portrayal of the abhorrent Craig and Paul Adyefa appears briefly onstage as Joseph.
There are some cleverly devised moments of sound and lighting that reveal Adyefa in lightning fast vignettes. Will Monks designed the lighting, a key element to the horror style, which works effectively in tandem with the sound plot designed by Jon McLeod.
Audrey Sheffield has brought this story to life with a fine eye for detail and crafted a performance that makes sense of the complexity of time shifts and a potentially overcrowded motel room.
Paperbark Theatre Co in association with Thinking Aloud and Theatre 503 present The Dark Room in partnership with NSPCC, recognising that public discussion of the subject matter is important.
The Dark Room is high drama set in a remote region of outback Australia but the situations and caustic relationships of the narrative could be found anywhere in the world.