The Dark Room
QUT, The Loft
June 4 – 8
Prior to attendance, we were, thankfully, warned of the challenge of Angela Betzien’s dramatic thriller, “The Dark Room”; the powerful play about vulnerable characters without a lot of power is certainly heavy in its subject matter, confronting and shocking in its brutality and abrasive language. The setting is a soulless hotel just outside of Darwin. There is an obvious lived-in texture to the aesthetic of the room in which we are eventually introduced to six characters, only at different points in time as, with a suffocating threat of violence, the tense production tells three interconnecting stories.
With its shared spaces and time changes, “The Dark Room” is a complex undertaking for QUT Bachelor of Fine Arts (Acting) final-year students and under Matt Scholten’s direction they create a suspenseful experience to stay with audiences even in recollection, for this dark room offers little escape for any of its occupants. It starts in silence before its sinister sensibility shows through appearance of troubled teenage Grace (Georgia Tucker) wearing a dirty hangman’s hood. The aggressive, unstable, psychologically damaged and potentially violent girl is at the hotel with social worker Anni (Sarah Edwards), due to a lack of emergency housing.
We sit in this core story for a long time before their interaction intersects with the others. Married couple Stephen (Wil Carseldine) and Emma (Bronte Price) have also inhabited the room. Their conflict stems from police-officer Stephen’s attempt to kick on from an already big night with his work mates, without his pregnant wife. Stephen’s superior, Craig (Alex Kann), another guest of the motel, meanwhile, aims to intimidate his subordinates into lying for him. His secret, we learn, is intertwined with the tragic fate of Joseph (Thomas Weatherall). It is the distressing ghost of Joseph who is in the room in all the scenes.
There is not a lot of reprieve from the shouty, sweary, angry assault of the stories of “The Dark Room”, yet still some moments of tension could be sat in for longer. Edwards, in particular, does an excellent job in playing Anni with a well-tuned balance of strength and compassion. Tucker takes Grace to some disturbing places as a teen emboldened by the power of her shock-value statements in crave for the attention of reaction and while her overplayed accent and uncouth language comes and goes in initial scenes, this soon settles. And both do particularly well in holding their focus in interaction with each other and within their individual space while other character conversations and storyline action is occurring around them.
One of the strengths of “The Dark Room” is the craftedenss of its script, even if this takes a while to be realised; while the characters from each story are oblivious to the others, despite their occurrence around them, at points they echo the same lines, such is its layered meaning. Lighting (Christopher Conway) adds interest to key moments, through shadowing interaction across the stage, and works with sound (Kelly Hau) to enhance its horror. While there are some humorous moments, “The Dark Room” is really all about the drama of its alarming words and fearsome action. Indeed, experience of the eerie Australian drama is an intense one of shock and essential sadness, that may leave you with more questions than answers.